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Inland Counties Regional Center, Inc. v. Superior Court (Adan Omar Barajas)

California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, Second Division

April 10, 2017

INLAND COUNTIES REGIONAL CENTER, INC., Petitioner,
v.
THE SUPERIOR COURT OF RIVERSIDE COUNTY, Respondent ADAN OMAR BARAJAS, Real Party in Interest.

         ORIGINAL PROCEEDING; petition for writ of mandate. Super.Ct.No. INF1600191 Dean Benjamini, Judge. Petition granted.

          Enright & Ocheltree, Judith A. Enright, Julie A. Ocheltree, Noelle V. Bensussen and Aaron Abramowitz for Petitioner.

          No appearance for Respondent.

          Steven L. Harmon, Public Defender, Brian L. Boles, Thomas M. Cavanaugh, Assistant Public Defenders, Laura Arnold, Deputy Public Defender, for Real Party in Interest.

          OPINION

          McKINSTER Acting P. J.

         Petitioner, Inland Counties Regional Center, Inc. (IRC), helps coordinate care and services for individuals with developmental disabilities. (See, e.g., Cal. Code Regs., tit. 17, § 54302, subd. (a)(54).) The trial court in this case ordered IRC to assess the competency of real party in interest, Adan Omar Barajas (Barajas), to stand trial on criminal charges and then, when IRC failed to comply, held it in contempt and imposed monetary sanctions against it. Because we agree with IRC that this order was unjustified, we grant the petition.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On February 18, 2016, the People filed a felony complaint charging Barajas with vehicle theft (Veh. Code, § 10851, subd. (a)), knowingly obtaining a stolen vehicle (Pen. Code, § 496d, subd. (a)), driving under the influence (Veh. Code, § 23152, subd. (e)), and possession of paraphernalia used for smoking a controlled substance (Health & Saf. Code, § 11364). Barajas pled guilty to the vehicle theft and driving under the influence counts on February 29, 2016, and the other counts were dismissed. The trial court sentenced him to probation.

         Barajas then allegedly violated probation, causing the trial court to issue a bench warrant on June 24, 2016. On July 19, 2016, the deputy public defender appointed to represent Barajas requested a competency evaluation under Penal Code section 1368. The court granted the motion and appointed Patricia Kirkish, Ph.D., to conduct an evaluation. On August 18, 2016, Dr. Kirkish produced a report opining that Barajas lacked competency to stand trial, possibly due to a cognitive impairment.

         On September 2, 2016, the trial court, after reading Dr. Kirkish's report, found Barajas to be incompetent to stand trial and suspended criminal proceedings against him. It ordered a placement evaluation, which was provided on September 19, 2016. On September 26, 2016, the trial court held a hearing regarding Barajas's placement recommendation and issued a minute order reading, as relevant to this petition: “Court has read and considered Placement Evaluation. Court orders Inland Regional Center to provide a determination as to whether or not the defendant is incompetent due to developmental disabilities pursuant to 1369 [of the Penal Code]. Inland Regional Center to provide a report to the Court on or before 10/24/16.”

         IRC responded by sending the trial judge a “confidential” letter[1] on October 12, 2016, indicating that it could not perform a competency evaluation of Barajas unless it was first determined that he was eligible for IRC's services by virtue of having a developmental disability. The letter indicated IRC would, in fact, perform the evaluation, but if and only if Barajas was found to have a developmental disability. It also asked for a certified minute order providing access to Barajas and to his medical records.

         On October 24, 2016, the date set for production of the report IRC was ordered to provide on September 26, 2016, the trial court again held a hearing regarding Barajas's placement. The minute order the trial court issued reads, in relevant part: “Court orders Inland Regional to perform an evaluation pursuant to 1369 [of the Penal Code]. Evaluation returnable on 11/7/16. If no report is returned to the Court on or before 11/7/16 the Court orders a representative of Inland Regional to appear before the Court and justify why Inland Regional Center should not be held in contempt of Court.”

         IRC again responded with a “confidential” letter on November 4, 2016, explaining its position that it could not evaluate competency unless and until it determined that Barajas had a developmental disability. To this letter, IRC attached another letter, this one dated July 8, 2015, in which it explained to local courts and the agencies providing attorney representation in criminal cases that it would “no longer be conducting competency evaluations unless or until the defendant is found eligible for Regional Center services by a Regional Center.” In the November 4, 2016 letter, IRC repeated its request for a certified minute order granting face-to-face access to Barajas, and access to his medical records. It also expressed a need for his school records and evaluations prior to age 18 and requested eight weeks to complete its eligibility evaluation report.

         The parties appeared for another hearing on November 7, 2016. The trial court began by confirming that it intended to hold a contempt proceeding after verifying that IRC had not, in fact, prepared a report regarding Barajas's competency to stand trial. When describing the case's procedural history, the court explained: “When I was rereading [Dr. Kirkish's] report, two things jumped out at me. Number one, is that [Barajas] appears to have been the victim of some traumatic brain injury, perhaps around the age of 18. But, more importantly, he also reported being in special education classes in the 5th grade and having a very difficult time succeeding to the point where, I believe, he had to be home schooled by a[n] uncle. [¶] When I read both of those things in conjunction, I had a suspicion that the incompetence was due to a developmental disability. Therefore, pursuant to Penal Code Section 1369[, subdivision] (a), I entered an order on September the 26th of this year to the Inland Regional Center to determine whether or not the defendant is incompetent, due to the developmental disability pursuant to Penal Code Section 1369.” The trial court then characterized IRC's first confidential letter as “essentially stating [there had been] an illegal court order, ” and the second as “essentially stating that [IRC] is not going to comply with the Court's order.”

         IRC's counsel referred the trial court to the November 4, 2016 letter, which relied on several sections in the Welfare and Institutions Code as authority supporting the position that IRC could not commit to doing more than assessing Barajas for a developmental disability at that time. The trial court responded that Penal Code section 1369, subdivision (a), “stands apart from” those statutes and then cited People v. Leonard (2007) 40 Cal.4th 1370 (Leonard) as support for the idea that the experts who evaluated Barajas's competency should have experience with developmental disability. In concluding, the trial noted that Penal Code section “1369 specifically refers to a suspicion by the courts, ” and then stated: “I have a suspicion based on the information ...


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