September 01, 2015
A pro bono team from Weil was co-counsel with the Center for Constitutional Rights and others in reaching a landmark settlement in the federal class action Ashker v. Governor of California that will effectively end indeterminate, long-term solitary confinement in all California state prisons. Subject to court approval, the agreement will result in a dramatic reduction in the number of people in solitary across the state and a new program that could be a model for other states going forward.
The class action was brought in 2012 on behalf of prisoners held in solitary confinement at the Pelican Bay prison, often without any violent conduct or serious rule infractions, often for more than a decade, and all without any meaningful process for transfer out of isolation and back to the general prison population. Ashker argued that California’s use of prolonged solitary confinement constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and denies prisoners the right to due process.
Today’s settlement transforms California’s use of solitary confinement from a status-based system to a behavior-based system; prisoners will no longer be sent to solitary based solely on gang affiliation, but rather based on infraction of specific serious rules violations. It also limits the amount of time a prisoner can spend in the Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit (SHU) and provides a two-year step-down program for transfer from SHU to general population.
Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, California Prison Focus, Siegel & Yee, Christensen O'Connor Johnson Kindness PLLC, Ellenberg & Hull and the Law Offices of Charles Carbone are also co-counsel in the case.
A large team of more than 75 lawyers, paralegals and other support staff at Weil has devoted more than 5,000 pro bono hours to working on the case. The core team was led by partner Anne Cappella and included associates Aaron Huang, An Tran, Bambo Obaro, Meaghan Thomas-Kennedy, Matthew Leung, Shauna Aaron, Alexa Chu Clinton, Cameron Cook and Michael Bell. Partners Eric Hochstadt and Adrian Percer and associates Kirill Levashov, Catherine Gurney, Mei Dan, Jevechius Bernardoni, Annie Kang, Jessica Mohr, John Stratford, Michele Gauger, Blake Davis and Amanda Branch also assisted.