Parties Announce Preliminary Comprehensive Settlement in Federal Class Action Lawsuit Over Conditions at Monterey County Jail

May 11, 2015 6:00 pm

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SALINAS, CALIFORNIA – Lawyers for all parties in Hernandez v. County of Monterey announced today that they have reached a preliminary comprehensive settlement in the class action lawsuit filed in May 2013 in federal court in San Jose regarding conditions at the Monterey County Jail. The settlement was approved by the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, California Forensic Medical Group (CFMG), the Monterey County Public Defender, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the law firm of Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld. The settlement is subject to approval by U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal after notice to the class and a fairness hearing.

Plaintiffs are prisoners in the custody of the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office; defendants are the County of Monterey, Monterey County Sheriff’s Office, and CFMG.

Under the settlement agreement, the defendants deny any liability, and state that prior to and since the initiation of this litigation, the County of Monterey, Monterey County Sheriff’s Office, and CFMG had commenced initiatives to enhance the delivery of mental health services and medical care, improve the safety of the Monterey County Jail and improve jail and program accessibility.

“The settlement will benefit inmates and improve public safety, which will benefit Monterey County as a whole,” says Simon Salinas, Chair of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors. “We have been improving conditions at the jail since before the lawsuit was originally filed, and this settlement provides a great opportunity to build on those improvements through collaboration rather than litigation,” adds Monterey County Sheriff Steve Bernal. “The settlement clears the way for us to complete our jail modernization work.”

“We are proud of the high quality and compassionate care we have provided to the inmates of the Monterey County Jail for more than 31 years. The settlement agreement acknowledges that we and the county have continually enhanced services, including increased staffing, in recognition of rising healthcare demands and our desire to do right by inmates and their families,” said Elaine Hustedt, co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of CFMG.

“Public defenders have a duty under California law to address their clients’ conditions of confinement,” says Monterey County Public Defender Jim Egar. “By continuing to work with us on this settlement, the county will continue to rapidly improve our clients’ conditions of confinement, without the delay and expense of a civil trial.”

According to the terms of the agreement, by October 15, 2015, plaintiffs and defendants will develop a series of implementation plans to enhance services at the Monterey County Jail. The parties have agreed to retain experts as neutral monitors for a limited term of oversight.

“All sides have come together in a very positive and constructive way to bring about positive change for our clients,” says co-lead counsel for plaintiffs Michael Bien, a partner with Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld in San Francisco. “We specifically look forward to working with the county to ensure that prisoners with disabilities can participate fully in proven programs that reduce recidivism and improve public safety,” said Bien.

“We are very hopeful that the changes long underway in Monterey will have immediate and lasting benefits for the public, as well as for our clients,” says co-counsel Alan Schlosser of the ACLU of Northern California. The prisoner class is also represented by the ACLU’s National Prison Project in Washington, D.C. “The human costs of jail overcrowding are a pressing problem nationwide,” says National Prison Project counsel Eric Balaban.

Added Taylor Fithian, MD, co-founder and president of CFMG: “I have been caring for inmates at the Monterey County Jail almost every day for more than 31 years, and I am glad to resolve this matter so we can continue that good work.”

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