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$6,280,000 Settlement For Illegal California Juvenile Hall Strip Searches

by John E. Dannenberg

On July 10, 2006, the County of Sacramento, California agreed to pay $6,280,000 to the class of juvenile hall detainees who were illegally strip-searched between January 1, 1998 and October 1, 2004 at the Sacramento County Boys Ranch, Community Programs, Warren E. Thornton Youth Center, William K. Morgan Assessment Center, and the Juvenile Intake and Juvenile Hall facilities. Of this sum, up to $500,000 is reserved for claims administration and $1.5 million is to be paid to Sacramento class attorney Mark Merin for fees and costs. $280,000 is specifically allocated to pay for verified claims of the class action's six representative plaintiffs.

Emily Robinson and Kimberly Koslowski were principal named plaintiffs in two actions [later joined by the court] brought in U.S. District Court (E.D. Cal.) in 2004 seeking damages from unconstitutional strip searches in Sacramento County's various juvenile detention facilities. They alleged that regardless of their status as detainees, convicted misdemeanants or nonviolent felons, they were routinely subjected to unclothed body strip searches upon arrival at their unit and upon transfer to their units. In addition, they were strip searched in groups following visits and school classes. In no case was advance approval requested or given for such strip searches, in plain violation of California Penal Code (PC) § 4030 et seq. On September 29, 2004, Sacramento County suddenly instituted a comprehensive 14 page revised strip search policy conforming with the relevant statutes.

Discovery revealed that the illegal policy was operative between January 1, 1998 and October 1, 2004, affecting an estimated 29,000 juveniles. A class was certified consisting of all such detainees, with sub-classes specified (a) for those who were booked on misdemeanor, infraction, ordinance violations or other non-felony offenses, not involving violence, drugs or weapons [which are exceptions to the no-strip-search law], and (b) for those with felonies, but not involving these exceptions.

The settlement was designed on a point award basis, where more points were assigned for the least justified searches. Each Settlement Class Member (SCM) who submits a verified claim will receive 1 point for each booking (up to a maximum of three bookings), plus additional points as follows: 5 points if the claimant was only charged with a non-felony, non-violent crime, or 3 points if charged with a non-violent felony not involving drugs or weapons. When all claims have been received (180 day filing period), the $4 million non-class-representative claimant pot will be divided proportionate to the total points claimed and each claimants pro-rata share. An exception is if the total points claimed are less than 100 of the estimated potential, in which case each claimant shall be paid a flat $500 per point. If SCMs are under 18, their claim forms must be cosigned by a parent or guardian. If minor's claims are not cosigned, their checks will be sent to the class attorney to hold in trust until their 18th birthdays. Any affected person wishing to sue separately may opt out of the class settlement and seek their own relief.

Potential SCMs will be sought by contacting all known prior juvenile detainees at their last known addresses, by posting notices in all Sacramento juvenile facilities, and by public advertising in newspapers and on the radio. Any SCM may write the class attorney and obtain claim forms. The claims administrator, to whom completed forms must be sent, is Gilardi and Co., LLC, P.O. Box 1110, Corte Madera, CA 94976-1110. The class attorney is Law Office of Mark Merin, 2001 P Street, Suite 100, Sacramento, CA 95814. See: Robinson v. Sacramento County, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Cal.), Case No. CIV-S-04-1617 FCD/PAN.

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Related legal case

Robinson v. Sacramento County