Please follow the thread above for a summary of today’s hearing, including some photos and links.
I have a few observations to add to the recap. First is that the picture, as it emerges from the hearing is strikingly damning–even to those of us who had front-row seats to this tragedy last year. The testimonies were extremely powerful, especially given the courage that it takes for someone currently incarcerated or for someone at CDCR’s employ to testify against CDCR.
If anything, the cross examination helped, rather than hurt, Petitioners’ case. CDCR’s goal at this hearing is to show that they took ameliorative steps that reduced the seriousness of their Chino transfer fiasco, and that the conditions at present are much better than they were–because their overall objection to the testimony revolves around the legal point that habeas relief cannot be awarded for past convictions, only for present convictions. The supreme irony of abandoning people to their fate through mismanagement and indifference, waiting for the virus to ail and kill them, and after it’s all over (because the virus won–not because they did!) claim that it’s over and no remedy is forthcoming, is extremely difficult to stomach.
But at the hearing itself, some of these questions backfired. When AG representative John Walters repeatedly asked the witnesses whether–and why–they declined testing, he opened the door to one of the main horrors of the pandemic, namely, to the fact that CDCR had lost credibility to such a degree that asking for help was putting oneself at a disadvantage. I hope the petitioners’ team hammers this home in coming days. The exchanges between Walters and incarcerated journalist Juan Haines were especially testy: Haines challenged Walters’ reliance on CDCR post-Plata definitions of design capacity, as well as reminded him, wryly, that he couldn’t comment on population reductions because he didn’t actually have access to the data. Similarly, when Walters asked John Mattox, one of the Chino transferees (who reported his symptoms before getting on the bus and was told he was lying!) “If I told you there were 500 less people, would it surprise you?” Mattox replied: “It would surprise me, because I haven’t seen any difference in how they treat us.”
The big question continues to be the efficacy of the remedy. I’m sure Judge Howard has a lot to chew on.