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Criminal Justice

Judge Strikes Down Measure J, Seen As A Blow To The Criminal Justice Reform Movement

The side of Twin Towers jails reads — in part — in painted letters: Emergency Vehicles, Booking Compound, Delivery entrance, with a black arrow pointed to the right and slightly upward.
Two Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles.
(Chava Sanchez
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In a tentative ruling on Thursday, Superior Court Judge Mary Strobel ruled that the voter approved Measure J is unconstitutional. Measure J, which passed last November, requires L.A. County to spend at least 10% of its general fund on social services and jail diversion programs.

This ruling, if it stands, could be a huge blow to the criminal justice reform movement.

The constitutional issue is not what is in the measure, rather how it was approved.

“The court did not say that anything in this measure would be unlawful had it been enacted as an ordinance by the County Board of Supervisors or adopted as a resolution,” said Fred Woocher, an election law expert.

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Woocher said that taking the spending decision out of the hands of the Board of Supervisors and putting it into the hands of the voters violated a provision of state law that requires the Board of Supervisors to make budgeting decisions.

In a statement, county officials said they were disappointed in the court’s decision, but said they had no comment on a potential appeal.

The statement says:

“Los Angeles County is disappointed by the Court’s proposed decision and we are reviewing the ruling and intend to file our objections and renew our request to stay the order on the deadline set by the court.

The fact of the matter is that the voters of Los Angeles County approved Measure J and directed the County to devote at least 10 percent of the County’s locally generated unrestricted revenues in the general fund to direct community investments and alternatives to incarceration. This set-aside builds on the Board of Supervisors’ commitment to reform the justice system to prioritize care first, jails last and provide more effective and long-lasting services to our residents and communities. The County is committed to carrying out both the spirit and the letter of voters’ intentions. The court’s decision has no impact on the Board of Supervisors’ authority to approve funding for the types of programs and investments specified in the Measure J ordinance. In the 2021-22 Recommended Budget approved on April 20, 2021, $100 million was approved for these purposes.

The County’s position, as argued in court, is that Measure J does not prevent the Board from directing the budget or complying with state and federal budget requirements. There are extensive regulations, restrictions and requirements that apply to many other components of the County’s $36 billion-plus budget, and Measure J is just one of them. It’s also important to note that Measure J does not tie the hands of future Boards; in the event of a future fiscal emergency, the Board can reduce the set-aside by a four-fifths vote.”