At its conference last week, the Supreme Court transferred to the Court of Appeal an original writ petition in a case that the petition says seeks “urgent injunctive relief to protect Los Angeles County Jail inmates from the rapid spread of COVID-19.”
Specifically, the petition in Cullors v. Superior Court challenges two superior court orders reportedly denying expedited discovery. The Supreme Court transferred the matter to the Second District Court of Appeal “with directions to issue an alternative writ of mandate ordering the Superior Court for the County of Los Angeles to appoint a special master to oversee expedited discovery or to show cause why such a special master should not be appointed.”
The petition cited another pandemic-docket jail case, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers v. Newsom, where the Supreme Court in early May said that legal actions regarding prisoner health issues should be filed in superior courts and it directed those courts “to proceed as expeditiously as possible.”
The National Association writ petition, filed two months ago, had asked the Supreme Court itself to order relief, arguing, “By the time the lower courts could issue relief necessary to remedy ongoing constitutional violations, and those orders could be reviewed by the appellate courts, hundreds or thousands of incarcerated people and staff will have contracted the disease.” The Cullors petition reports that from April 29 to May 28, the number of Los Angeles County jail prisoners and County employees who had tested positive for the virus increased from 107 and 66 to 1259 and 1903, respectively.
When, more than a month ago, the Supreme Court in another pandemic-prisoner-health case again deferred legal action to the superior courts, Justice Goodwin Liu dissented, saying the court “should act with an urgency that befits the current crisis,” and added, “I fear that today’s order will unnecessarily delay resolution of issues with potentially dire consequences for inmates, correctional staff, the health care system, and our state as a whole.”
The Supreme Court transferred the Cullors petition to the Court of Appeal five days ago. As of now, the Court of Appeal docket (the case was assigned to Division Eight) shows that court has yet to perform the ministerial duty of issuing an alternative writ as directed by the Supreme Court.
[June 23 update: lots of action in the case today. The Court of Appeal issued an alternative writ, the superior court immediately said it “will issue a new order appointing a special master to oversee expedited discovery in this case,” and the appellate court then dismissed the writ petition as moot.]