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Parole Official Demoted After Complaints

Personnel: Attorneys for inmates accused former vice chairman of state board of inappropriate comments and behavior during hearings.

September 04, 2002|JENIFER WARREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — The vice chairman of the state parole board has been demoted after a string of attorneys complained that his behavior toward them and their inmate clients has been demeaning and inappropriate.

In one instance, Board of Prison Terms Commissioner Jones Moore told a female attorney who remarked on the heat that she was probably having "a personal problem"--which she interpreted as a reference to hot flashes.

That and other episodes have led to "an unacceptable number of complaints" against Moore, board Chairwoman Carol Daly said in a document obtained by The Times. Although Daly said not all the complaints were valid, she added that Moore's conduct has had "a deleterious effect" on the board.

Her comments came in an Aug. 27 letter to state Senate leader John Burton (D-San Francisco), who inquired about Moore after receiving complaints about the commissioner's behavior during inmate parole hearings. Daly told Burton she was demoting Moore in part because he had developed a "reputation as having an arrogant demeanor and questionable work ethic."

Although Moore--appointed by Gov. Gray Davis last year--will remain on the board, Daly said in the letter that she would "take appropriate action" if his behavior warranted it.

Reached by telephone Tuesday, Daly called the complaints a personnel issue and declined to comment beyond saying, "Commissioner Moore is a hard worker and is doing a good job."

Efforts to reach Moore were unsuccessful. But in her letter, Daly said he "clearly does not acknowledge conduct rising to a level of concern."

In an interview, Burton called Moore's behavior "totally unacceptable" and added, "Hopefully he'll learn from his mistakes and be a little bit more sensitive from now on."

The first complaint The Times learned of involved an episode in January, when attorney Stephen Pearcy was representing an inmate before Moore and a deputy commissioner at the state prison in Tracy. Pearcy said that as he was telling the commissioner why his client should be paroled after 23 years behind bars, Moore was reading files on other inmates with hearings later that day.

"It's like a juror reading a newspaper while you're making your core legal argument in court," Pearcy said in an interview. "My client was entitled to a meaningful hearing by people who were actually listening--or at least appeared to be listening. And that's not what he got."

A transcript of the hearing shows that Pearcy objected to Moore's behavior and that Moore responded, "I have ... five other cases to deal with today." Moore also insisted that he was "listening to every word you have to say" and had not, as Pearcy argued, already made up his mind about the case.

The inmate was denied parole that day, prompting his lawyer to file an appeal with the board, whose appeals unit confirmed that Moore had been reviewing another inmate's file but said that had no bearing on the outcome.

Another episode, in June, involved a female lawyer representing an inmate at Folsom State Prison. According to documents obtained by The Times, the attorney observed that the hearing room was hot and stuffy.

That prompted Moore to remark, "That sounds like a personal problem." Moore's comment infuriated Marcia Huff, who was sitting in on the hearing and was the victim of the inmate seeking parole. Huff wrote to Daly, saying she found Moore's "body language, as well as verbal comments, to be arrogant and degrading." Huff said she was "appalled" when Moore called attorneys "mouthpieces," rolled his eyes during the hearing and noisily slurped water from a bottle.

In her letter to Burton, Daly said that Moore "acted inappropriately" during that hearing and that he had since apologized to the attorney.

A third complaint was filed by a San Francisco lawyer representing two female inmates at hearings in June. In a letter to Daly, the lawyer, Edwin Caldwell, said Moore opened the hearing for Judy Bell by saying, "Here we have the drug baby"--an apparent reference to the fact that Bell was an addict born with fetal alcohol syndrome.

Later in the hearing, Caldwell said, his client began weeping when Moore spoke harshly to her. In response, Caldwell said in his complaint, Moore told her, "Knock off those tears. They are not going to get you anywhere."

In an interview, Caldwell called Moore "condescending and mean-spirited. It's very devastating to women who have waited forever to get these hearings."

Moore's term expires in 2004. Before his appointment, he was an executive with the state prison guards union.

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