Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Federal judge: Parole board members may be personally liable for 'Condition X' due-process violations

Last year Grits wondered aloud if the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles had created massive civil liability for themselves and the state by continuing to defy the federal judiciary over the application of "Condition X," which is a battery of sex-offender conditions (basically everything except public registration, including residency restrictions, etc.) applied as a condition of parole, even though the parolee has never been convicted of a sex offense. Now a federal judge has answered that question, "Yes," reported Mike Ward at the Austin Statesman ("Judge: Parole officials can be held liable over sex-offender restrictions," May 22). If the ruling stands, and the parole board doesn't change its ways, its members could start having to pay out of their own pockets. The story opened:
In the latest rebuke of state policies for classifying parolees as sex offenders, an Austin federal judge has ruled that top state parole officials can be held personally liable for continuing missteps.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel of Austin, in an order issued late Friday, blasted the state's continuing refusal to provide due process hearings before imposing restrictive sex-offender conditions on felons never convicted of a sex crime.

Yeakel for the first time ruled that the seven-member state Board of Pardons and Paroles, 12 parole commissioners, state parole director Stuart Jenkins and other parole officials can face monetary damages for their actions.

It's a significant determination that, if not reversed on appeal, could prove costly for both the officials and taxpayers, if several pending inmate lawsuits are successful.
This ruling has been years and years in the making. A jury has already held once that parole board members should be held personally liable for intentionally violating parolee rights in this fashion. Judge Sam Sparks overruled jurors at the time, but not before saying of parole board Chair Rissie Owens, "Her inattention is mystifying, and it shows her to be some combination ... of 'indecisive, insensitive, inattentive, incompetent, stupid, (or) weak-kneed.'" Apparently Sparks' colleague Judge Yeakel has finally lost patience.

At one point parole officials swore in court the board had assigned Condition X to around 7,000 parolees, but later offered lower figures. Nobody seems to know for sure, but everyone agrees it's more than the number for which the parole board could reasonably hold individualized hearings. To be clear: The question before the court isn't whether Condition X might be appropriate in some cases, it's whether there must be some sort of due process before assigning that tag, or can the parole board do it by fiat? They feds aren't saying the parole board can't do assign Condition X where there's no sex-crime conviction, just that they can't do it without showing cause in a hearing. Here's Ward again, tying together the pieces:
In his order Friday, Yeakel ruled that the state has for six years been aware that it must provide hearings to parolees in such cases and that officials' continuing failure to do so leaves them open to liability.

"In light of the resistance of the state of Texas to providing parolees with the procedural due process guaranteed them by the Constitution, even after receiving repeated mandates from federal and state courts, the court is unconvinced that Texas will not return to its unconstitutional policies and practices," the 31-page order states.

"Any stigmatic injury suffered by Yeary due to the imposition and continued enforcement of Special Condition X may entitle Yeary to compensatory damages."
One of the reasons this has dragged on so long is that the cases come up one at a time, so even if the parole board loses one case they don't change their policies on all the others. So, for example, in 2009 a jury awarded personal damages of $21,250 against board chair Rissie Owens to Ray Curtis Graham for assigning him Condition X while denying him a required "Coleman" hearing for 576 days. Judge Sparks declined at that point to hold parole board members personally liable, instead vesting liability with the agency. So they just kept doing it. Will parole board members begin following the courts' repeated directives now that they have some skin in the game?

See related Grits posts:

12 comments:

rodsmith said...

Could't happen to a better bunch of hatefiled retard nazi wannabee's

Hope each and every person they have hit with it now file multi million dollar damage lawsuits and turn each one into a personal wage slave for the rest of their LIVES!

ColeenSanLeon said...

I second that.

Anonymous said...

Would be more appropriate if they were held criminally liable. That way they could take the place of those who were illegally incarcerated and get the shank to the throat they deserve.

Padron said...

Thw sad thing is, many inmates do not have legal representation or education to know they have been violated. TX BPP is a predator of sorts relying on that fact alone. Though I do not condemn their efforts for wanting to keep the community safe; they are not above the law in doing so. It is sad that they have lacked such integrity.

rodsmith said...

oh i agree 7:42 the problem is the United States Supreme Court keeps saying over and over you can't hold crooked govt stooges criminally liable for their crimes. Hell it's hard enough to get them to let a CIVIL award go through.

Anonymous said...

The true irony is that further in Mike Ward's article, it stated that the General Counsel of the Board of Pardons and Paroles, Ms. Bettie Wells, was not personally liable. If appointed officials act upon the legal acumen of their in-house counsel, shouldn't the entity giving faulty counsel also be held accountable?
This discrepancy is further shown by the fact that Stuart Jenkins, who is not employed by the Board of Pardons and Paroles, is being made vulnerable by whatever pseudo counseling he is receiving from the TDCJ's legal department.
The day that the Coleman ruling came down should have been the day that the condition X hearings commenced.This procedure should have been planned as soon as it became a potential consequence of an adverse ruling in Coleman.
The failure of both agency's general counsel's offices has led to this fiasco, and this needs to be examined and immediately corrected.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits, when you get time please consider updating this Post with the names of all (7) and the cities / counties in which they reside. I ask so that the taxpayers & voters may put a name with the action(s) of board members in hopes of learning about possible political trends, patterns and / or reasons for knowingly and willingly egregiously misbranding. *If Walmart branded Chicken as Lobster, or Beef as Pork, all hell would break lose.

If any GFB readers happen to know additional info regarding the individually listed board members please share. By having their; names, locations, political affiliations made public we might be able to learn more about their spouses and eventually what makes them tick. At some point we might learn what is driving these puppets to boldly vote as one vs. doing so independently. Thanks.

john said...

Are the Parole Board members not part of the "lawyers' union" (State bar, etc.)? I'm always surprised an agency can be held accountable, ever. How can other accountabilities be engaged? There are way too many folks hung up by fees, fines, jail, prison and worse.

UH-OH, stoopid Captcha!!

Kevin Stouwie said...

Very interesting piece! I am so thankful this blog exists.

This court ruling is quite surprising. Normally, governmental actors have a huge shield protecting them from civil liability. That shield, the Texas Tort Claims Act, is nearly absolute. However, the shield does not apply to civil rights violations, and due process is a civil right. So, I guess that must have been the reasoning applied by the Judge. I would seriously doubt that the state would EVER allow a BPP member to have to foot the bill, whether it is the legal fees, or a settlement or judgment, for any of the misapplications of Special Condition "X", especially if they were relying on the legal opinion of their own attorney employed by the BPP.

I know that the comments here have been pretty harsh towards the members of the BPP. However, I have dealt with each of them in the past, and I have always found them to be diligent, fair, honest, and hard working. Perhaps errors were made, but I seriously doubt there was ever any malice involved. That's just my .02

rodsmith said...

the problem 1:14 is that they got caught up in the new witch hunt that says ANYTHING you do under the cover of Sex Crimes is LEGAL...even when it's not!

now they can hang for it!

Anonymous said...

Thomas Griffith, this link will get you to the information you're looking for.

http://www.tdcj.state.tx.us/bpp/brd_members/brd_members.html

Anthony Bickham said...

Can anyone help me out? I have a 10 year sentence for burglary of habitation. I was released on parole in 2009. I discharge in december 2013. I have special condition x imposed on me for an indecent exposure when I was 14 years old. From what I've looked up online texas code of criminal procedure says I have to have 2 of these charges to have special conditions x imposed on me. Now they are saying it only has to be 1 But current policy states that I have to have 2. Has there been a policy change? Can anyone help me? These conditions are causing me not to be able to have a job and putting stress and strain on my entire family. Please help. anthonybickham@hotmail.com