- Alameda County State Superior Court Presiding Judge Morris Jacobson at today's meeting.
The presiding judge of Alameda County's superior court told a board of supervisors committee today that past decisions made by the City of Oakland and the sheriff's office forced him to make a controversial decision to move nearly all in-custody arraignments from Oakland to the new courthouse in Dublin.
According to Presiding Judge Morris Jacobson, the City of Oakland’s decision to close its municipal jail in 2005 led to the loss of numerous beds for pre-trial detainees whose hearings were just across the street in the Wiley Manuel Courthouse. The city’s decision was based on budget concerns, but it harmed detainees and their family members because more of them had to be locked up in the Santa Rita Jail located 25 miles away in Dublin and bused to Oakland's criminal courts for arraignment.
“The decision by the City of Oakland to close that jail – which clearly favored budget efficiency over the best interest of the pre-trail detainees and their families – effectively transferred the societal cost of maintaining a local jail for Oakland arrestees to the County and Superior Court,” wrote Jacobson in a lengthy letter to the board of supervisors.
Jacobson also wrote that the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office is not fully utilizing the Glenn Dyer Jail to house pre-trail county detainees, and that this has worsened the overall situation. Glenn Dyer is located next to the Wiley Manuel Courthouse. Jacobson accused the Sheriff’s Office of using Glenn Dyer as a “revenue-generator” because many of the facility’s inmates are federal detainees housed under a contract with the U.S. Marshal’s Service. He estimated that the sheriff earns $6 million a year housing federal inmates instead of county detainees at Glenn Dyer.
“[T]he Court believes strongly that the real issue here is not our decision to hold arraignments at the [new Dublin Courthouse],” explained Jacobson. “That decision is a symptom of a larger issue, namely the county’s failure to house North County pre-trial detainees [in Oakland].”
But Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern said Jacobson’s letter contains inaccuracies, and that his department is willing, and required by law, to transport detainees to any courthouse in the county for their arraignments from the main Santa Rita Jail in Dublin.
“We understand the issue of people wanting to be able to attend their family members’ arraignments,” Ahern told the Express, adding that the existing system, whereby most pre-trail detainees are housed at Santa Rita and driven to arraignments in Oakland, Hayward, or other courthouses, has not been a problem for his deputies.
“We don’t see this as a huge problem. We can work with the system as it is,” said the sheriff.
Ahern also responded that the Glenn Dyer Jail is primarily used to house federal inmates because it is a maximum security facility. He said that if lower security-level inmates from Santa Rita were detained at Glen Dyer, they would receive fewer services. He added that the Glen Dyer Jail cannot house women, who make up about 10 percent of the county's jail population, because of past litigation.
Public Defender Brendon Woods said that Jacobson is at fault because he made a “unilateral decision” to move nearly all criminal arraignments from Oakland and other courthouses to Dublin's new East County Hall of Justice, and that the judge's most recent letter “deflects” from this fact.
According to Woods, the decision harms defendants and their families who reside in Oakland and makes it more difficult for defense attorneys to help their clients.
“It’s bad for low income people, people of color,” he told the Express.
Judge Jacobson's decision to hold all Oakland arraignments in the new Dublin courthouse has been the subject of controversy for some time now. This morning's board of supervisors public protection committee meeting turned into a debate between Jacobson and Woods, with staff from the sheriff's office chiming in also.
Woods said at the meeting that there had never been a discussion about moving all of the county's in-custody criminal arraignments to a single courthouse prior to Judge Jacobson's decision earlier this year. The new Dublin courthouse was originally intended to serve cases originating in the eastern third of the county, not to take over all of Oakland's in-custody criminal arraignments.
He claimed the decision shoehorns his office's attorneys into facilities that are inadequate in terms of space and it will be impossible conduct all of the interviews necessary to properly represent clients.
“We're adding what I would call unnecessary volume to that building that currently occurs in other courthouses,” said Woods. He called it a “traffic jam” scenario.
But Judge Jacobson argued that the new courthouse's facilities are large enough and that there are 26 interview rooms for the public defender to use.
“This has surprised me, this whole debate we've been having, because it's all focused on arraignments,” Jacobson told the supervisors' committee. He said no matter what, detainees facing trial who can't make bail will still be held for long periods of time in Santa Rita, forcing family members who want to visit them to pay to travel there instead of being able to meet them in an Oakland jail facility.
Ahern said, however, that Glenn Dyer simply can't accommodate these inmates, and that Jaconson's characterization of the number of available beds there is inaccurate.
Supervisor Richard Valle reflected during today's hearing on the courthouse controversy that the “human factor” of what happens in the courts was lost amid financial and administrative concerns when the county was helping pay for and build the $140 million East County Hall of Justice.
The controversy over where to hold arraignments remains. It's ultimately Judge Jacobson's decision, but Woods said his office and many local politicians and community groups will continue to push back against the move.