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Ashker v. Cate

United States District Court, N.D. California, Eureka Division

November 2, 2017

TODD ASHKER, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
MATHEW CATE, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER RE PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE RE: DKT. NO. 737

          NANDOR J. VADAS, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Pending before the court is Plaintiffs' Application for Order to Show Cause as to Defendants' Client Communications Ban on Members of Plaintiffs' Legal Team. (Doc. 737.) The matter was heard before the court on October 20, 2017. Based on the following, the court will deny Plaintiffs' Application.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs describe the factual background for their Application as follows:

Since March 3, 2017, Defendants have completely banned two members of Plaintiffs' legal team from all forms of communication with any California prisoners, including Plaintiffs and members of the Ashker class. The ban is absolute, specifically barring Anne Weills and Carole Travis from entry to any California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) facility and any telephone calls or correspondence, even if non-confidential. Despite numerous efforts by Plaintiffs to simply be informed of the basis for the ban, and to be provided with a process for resolution, Defendants have refused to state anything beyond that these two individuals are being investigated for “unlawful communications” and will be advised when “CDCR's investigation has been concluded.”

(Doc. 737, 1:3-11.)

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiffs filed their Motion on July 7, 2017. (Doc. 737.) Senior District Judge Wilken referred the Application to the undersigned on July 25, 2017. (Doc. 765.) On September 7, 2017, Defendants filed an Administrative Motion to Submit Documents for In Camera Review, requesting to submit the unredacted version of their Response to Plaintiffs' Motion for the court's in camera review. (Doc. 790.) Subsequent to the filing of Plaintiffs' Application, the court and Plaintiffs' counsel were provided with further information concerning the status of the communications ban via an email dated August 30, 2017. Defendants filed the redacted version of their Response to Plaintiffs' Motion on September 7, 2017. (Doc. 791.) The court granted Defendants' Motion to Submit Documents for In Camera Review on September 8, 2017. (Doc. 792.) Plaintiffs filed their Reply on September 15, 2017. (Doc. 797.)

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiffs' Application addresses the ban imposed by the CDCR on two members of Plaintiffs' legal team from all forms of communication with any California prisoners, including Plaintiffs and members of the Ashker class. Plaintiffs originally sought an order requiring Defendants to show cause why they should not be required to either (1) rescind the ban or (2) issue the charges and evidence supporting the ban, hold a hearing, and issue a final determination within thirty days. Plaintiffs state that their Application is made pursuant to Paragraph 40 of the Settlement Agreement, the Constitution, and this Court's inherent authority to enforce compliance with its orders. (Doc. 737, 1.)

         Paragraph 40 of the Settlement Agreement provides as follows:

40. Plaintiffs' counsel shall be entitled to meet and speak with all inmates covered by this agreement. Institutional staff shall facilitate Plaintiffs' counsel's requests for reasonable access to these individuals without undue delay, whether by telephone, mail, or personal visit. Defendants shall facilitate Plaintiffs' counsel having telephone conference calls with Plaintiff class representatives as a group annually.

Plaintiffs argue that the CDCR's failure to comply with their demands for notification of the charges against the two attorneys in question and prompt resolution of the matter "has hamstrung Plaintiffs' legal team in their efforts to monitor and enforce the Settlement Agreement, especially in their ability to communicate effectively with the class representatives and other class members." (Lobel Decl. Para. 3.)

         In response, Defendants state that the communications ban was imposed on Attorney Weills because she illegally used a personal mobile device to communicate with inmates. They contend that the Settlement Agreement does not provide an avenue for Plaintiffs to challenge CDCR's decisions to bar attorneys for illegal conduct. Further, they contend that ...


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