Child advocates and Fresno County have reached a prompt settlement in a lawsuit that aimed to ensure youth and other members of the public have a strong voice in developing the county’s local juvenile justice plan.
Attorneys representing the Center for Leadership, Equity, and Research announced the settlement agreement yesterday, just a few months after suing the county for allegedly freezing the public out of its right to meaningfully shape the plan.
Like all California counties, Fresno is working on a plan for how it will take over managing youth locally who would otherwise have to be held in one of the three remaining state juvenile lockups, all of which are closing next year.
Under the Juvenile Justice Realignment Act, local governments are charged with providing developmentally appropriate rehabilitative services to these young people to prevent future involvement with the justice system. They must create detailed plans about programs, placements, services, supervision and reentry strategies.
To complete the plans, every county must convene two local bodies — a Realignment Subcommittee and a Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council. CLEAR, represented by the law firms Baker McKenzie and the San Francisco-based Youth Law Center, sued Fresno County in October, maintaining that its planning bodies repeatedly denied the public sufficient input in violation of the state’s public meeting law, known as the Brown Act.
In a press release issued Feb. 9, CLEAR and its lawyers said they were pleased with the county’s quick agreement to halt all Brown Act violations and even strengthen the community’s voice in drawing up the plan. For example, the county agreed to put at least nine community member seats on its realignment subcommittee, with the requirement that at least half of them be present for the subcommittee to take any official action.
“When government processes are inclusive and transparent, they result in higher quality decisions that better serve our diverse communities,” said Ken Magdaleno, founder and executive director of CLEAR. “This settlement represents an important step for Fresno County, and we look forward to continuing to build towards a better future for Fresno’s young people.”
“It is not often that a settlement exceeds what was requested in the lawsuit,” said Meredith Desautels, Youth Law Center staff attorney, “but in this case, the parties reached a comprehensive agreement that is highly inclusive of the community it serves. We appreciate Fresno County’s efforts and hope that other counties will follow their lead.”
All county plans must be approved by the state. CLEAR’s lawyers said they hoped the Fresno settlement prompts other recalcitrant counties to meaningfully involve the public as they draw up their realignment plans.