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Coalition of Cities Supports Legal Challenge to Inmate Release

On December 24, Newport Beach, joined by 20 other Orange County cities, filed a legal brief supporting Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes’ challenge to a court order mandating the release of over 1,000 inmates.

This legal challenge was filed in response to a December 11 order by the Orange County Superior Court to release up to half of the total inmate population from the Orange County jail, in a declared effort to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. If the order stands, the inmates could be released in early January.

The Newport Beach City Council on Friday, December 18, voted unanimously to support Sheriff Barnes in his legal challenge to this court order. Since Friday, the following cities voted to join the effort: Cypress, Dana Point, Garden Grove, La Habra, Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel, Lake Forest, Huntington Beach, Mission Viejo, Orange, Placentia, Rancho Santa Margarita, San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano, Stanton, Westminster, Tustin, Yorba Linda and Villa Park.

The amicus brief filed Thursday contends that the trial court’s ruling did not provide adequate deference to the discretion provided to the duly-elected Sheriff Barnes under the controlling legal authorities. Instead, the trial court improperly gave itself the discretion properly afforded Sheriff Barnes. That kind of discretion requires careful analysis of risk factors, such as the potential for recidivism and risk to known victims and potential victims. Such an analysis was lacking in the trial court’s order.

Further, Sheriff Barnes has already taken significant action to reduce the jail population by releasing nonviolent offenders and medically vulnerable inmates during 2020. The brief argues that the focus on an inmate potentially catching COVID inside the jail fails to consider an inmate’s chances of catching COVID outside the jail too. The news is replete with stories showing the recent and significant increased risk of catching COVID by law-abiding citizens.

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