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Wallace v. Kern

decided: July 8, 1974.

DONALD WALLACE, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
v.
MICHAEL KERN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



Appeal from an order of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Orrin G. Judd, Judge, granting appellees' motion for preliminary injunction and ordering that inmates in the Brooklyn House of Detention for Men under indictment in the Kings County Supreme Court be permitted to demand trial after six-months pre-trial incarceration (nine months in the case of inmates accused of murder) and be released on their own recognizance if not brought to trial within 45 days of their demand. Reversed and vacated.

Lumbard and Hays, Circuit Judges; Jameson, District Judge.*fn*

Author: Hays

HAYS, Circuit Judge:

In July 1972 a committee of inmates awaiting trial or sentencing in the Brooklyn House of Detention for Men brought a class action pro se in the District Court for the Eastern District of New York. The defendants were six individual Justices of the New York Supreme Court, all of whom presided in criminal cases in Brooklyn. The plaintiffs alleged that the district court had jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1343 (1970). In substance, they prayed for interlocutory and permanent relief under section 1 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1970), restraining the defendant Justices from violating inmate rights guaranteed by the federal Constitution.*fn1

A week after the action was commenced, Judge Weinstein dismissed all claims relating to errors in the cases of individual prisoners on the authority of Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 27 L. Ed. 2d 669, 91 S. Ct. 746 (1971), and all claims relating to individual Justices as matters more appropriately resolved by local political processes. Nonetheless, he found that the complaint stated a core of facts going to the prompt and fair disposition of criminal cases in Brooklyn, and going to the condition and treatment of inmates in the House of Detention. He subsequently appointed counsel of the inmates' choosing to aid in presenting their side of the difficult jurisdictional and substantive issues presented by the case.

The prisoners by their appointed counsel filed an amended complaint in October 1972, and a second amended complaint in January 1973. Judge Weinstein disqualified himself, and the case was assigned to Judge Judd. The second amended complaint stated the same eight claims for relief as in the first amended complaint and also alleged cruel and unusual punishment by reason of lengthy pretrial delays, and denial of equal protection because the plaintiffs were indigent. All Justices of the Kings County Supreme Court and various other court and city officials were joined as defendants.*fn2 Judge Judd denied the defendants' subsequent Rule 12(b) (6) motion to dismiss, except that he dismissed the claims relating to defendants other than the Supreme Court Justices.

In February 1973 the district court held a hearing on the plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction, taking evidence on the claims relating to pro se applications, Legal Aid Society representation, and and pretrial delay. See note 2, in March 1973 the court granted class status to the plaintiffs.*fn3

On May 10, 1973, the district court granted the plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction as to two of their claims, restraining the Clerk of the Kings County Supreme Court from refusing to place pro se applications on the court's calendar, and restraining the Legal Aid Society from accepting more than forty cases per lawyer, reserving decision as to the other six claims. The Legal Aid Society and the Justices of the Supreme Court appealed to this court, and on June 27, we reversed and vacated the district court's order:

"In the case involving the Legal Aid Society we hold that the court has no jurisdiction under Section 1983 since the Society was not acting under color of state law. With relation to the order directed at the court personnel we hold that under the principle known as comity a federal district court has no power to intervene in the internal procedures of the state courts." Wallace v. Kern, 481 F.2d 621, 622 (2d Cir. 1973) (per curiam), cert. denied, 414 U.S. 1135, 94 S. Ct. 879, 38 L. Ed. 2d 761, 42 U.S.L.W. 3387 (Jan. 7, 1974) (citation omitted).

On July 20 and July 25, 1973, the district court held additional hearings on the plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction as to the speedy trial claim. A number of witnesses testified for the prisoners, including three of the prisoners and a psychiatrist at the House of Detention,*fn4 and Justice Vincent Damiani testified for the defendant Justices.*fn5 The district court granted the inmates' motion for a preliminary injunction, ironically, almost eight months after the hearing. It ordered that each prisoner detained while awaiting trial in the Kings County Supreme Court for more than six months (or more than nine months in the case of one accused of murder) be allowed to demand a trial, and be entitled to release on his own recognizance if not brought to trial within 45 days of his demand. The order provided that delays caused by the inmate would not toll the initial six or nine month period, but that such delays would toll the 45 days period following the demand for trial. The order further provided that notice of its contents should be posted in the various institutions holding persons awaiting trial in Kings County, and be distributed to each new prisoner upon his arraignment in the Kings County Supreme Court.

The Justices appealed. On April 2, 1974, we granted a stay of the preliminary injunction pending appeal.

We reverse and vacate the district court order.

I.

We have noted more than once in the past that funding, facilities and personnel in Kings County are chronically inadequate to the task of bringing criminal cases promptly to trial. Wallace v. Kern, supra; Thorne v. Warden, 479 F.2d 297, 299 n. 2 (2d Cir. 1973); see United States ex rel. Frizer v. McMann, 437 F.2d 1312, 1314-15 (2d Cir.) (en banc), cert. denied, 402 U.S. 1010, 29 L. Ed. 2d 433, 91 S. Ct. 2196 (1971). As of July 1973 there were over 700 persons named in indictments in the Kings County Supreme Court who had been in custody awaiting disposition of their cases for more than six months, 210 of whom had been in custody for more than a year. Lengthy pretrial confinement to be the rule in Kings County, despite the reform measures outlined by Justice Damiani. See note 5, supra. By January 1974 there were still 398 inmates awaiting trial who had suffered more than six months' confinement. The time lapse from the date of arrest to the date of trial in run-of-the-mill cases has ...


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