Capitol Alert

Prosecutors’ lawsuit challenges Jerry Brown’s crime initiative

Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert in January 2015. She is a plaintiff in a new lawsuit challenging a ballot measure proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown.
Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert in January 2015. She is a plaintiff in a new lawsuit challenging a ballot measure proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

California prosecutors have asked a judge to block a newly amended ballot measure championed by Gov. Jerry Brown that would make it easier for nonviolent prisoners to get parole.

In a lawsuit filed late Thursday, the California District Attorneys Association and Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said Attorney General Kamala Harris should not have accepted Brown’s Jan. 25 amendments to a proposed ballot measure filed Dec. 22 that dealt with juvenile crime.

“In short, the January 25, 2016, (filing) is not an amendment of the prior initiative draft – it is a completely different and new initiative,” the lawsuit reads.

The prosecutors’ state association has officially opposed the measure, dubbed the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act by proponents, believing that it would overhaul decades of sentence enhancements, including the popular “three-strikes” law.

Harris is scheduled to issue a title and summary Feb. 25 for the amended measure, clearing the way for supporters to begin collecting signatures. But Thursday’s lawsuit contends that the timing of the amended measure short-circuits the normal 65-day review process.

Brown has said the measure would reverse “unintended consequences” of fixed-term sentencing standards he signed into law when he was governor before. They and other laws have left offenders with few incentives to rehabilitate themselves while in prison, he and others say.

Brown criticized the lawsuit Friday.

“It’s perplexing why these DAs would deny the people of California their right to vote on this important public safety measure,” the governor said in a statement.

What became the governor-sponsored measure emerged late last year. Juvenile justice advocates, seeking to build on voters’ 2014 approval of Proposition 47, proposed a November 2016 initiative that would undo provisions of a 2000 ballot measure allowing prosecutors rather than judges to decide when to try teenagers as adults.

Brown joined that effort following months of talks, and his changes were folded in.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office and Department of Finance released its review of the amended measure Thursday, 16 days after its filings. Under the elections code, the two agencies have 50 days to review ballot proposals after their filing.

The review estimated net state savings ranging from the tens of millions of dollars to the low hundreds of millions of dollars annually, mainly because of a reduction in the prison population due to more good-time credits and paroles. Net county costs would range from millions to tens of millions of dollars a year, eventually declining to a few million dollars.

The governor-sponsored measure, which amends the California Constitution, needs 585,407 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

But this week’s lawsuit contends that Brown should have to file his proposal anew, which would push back by weeks how soon supporters could begin collecting signatures.

“The Governor cut in line bypassing the normal initiative process,” Ventura County District Attorney Greg Totten said in a statement. “This maneuver denied the public its right of review, and deprived the Legislative Analyst’s Office of valuable time necessary to analyze the fiscal impact of this sweeping initiative.”

Editor’s note: This post was updated at 1:45 p.m. Feb. 12 with response from the governor and other information.