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It's sprung time for Hilton

After her early exit from jail, an angry judge calls her back to court today.

June 08, 2007|Megan Garvey and Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writers

Sheriff Lee Baca's decision to let Paris Hilton out of jail after she served only three days of a planned 23-day stay sparked outrage Thursday, prompting an emergency court hearing today that could send the hotel heiress back behind bars.

Infuriated prosecutors asserted Thursday that Hilton had received special treatment from the Sheriff's Department, which they accused of contempt of court. The judge who sentenced Hilton ordered her back into court to consider whether the department acted improperly by allowing her to serve the rest of her sentence at home while wearing an ankle monitor.

"My understanding is she will be brought in a sheriff's vehicle from her home," said Allan Parachini, a Los Angeles County Superior Court spokesman.

Hilton's brief jail stay came after both the judge and sheriff had said she would serve more substantial jail time.

Superior Court Judge Michael T. Sauer sentenced Hilton to 45 days in jail after the 26-year-old multimillionaire repeatedly violated her probation on alcohol-related reckless driving charges by driving on a suspended license. Sauer had admonished Hilton for her actions and said she must serve the full term in the county jail.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday July 03, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 71 words Type of Material: Correction
Paris Hilton: Articles in The Times about Paris Hilton's jail sentence have given differing accounts of how long the hotel heiress spent behind bars the first time before Sheriff Lee Baca released her. Hilton entered custody at 11:15 p.m. on June 3 and was released early in the morning of June 7. The Sheriff's Department credited her with five days in jail, but she actually served less than four full days.

Baca, who runs the jail system, had said he was fully prepared to enforce what legal experts described as a tough sentence. He declared that Hilton would be treated like any other inmate, warned her to take her incarceration seriously and said with standard credit for good behavior she would spend 23 days in jail, not a moment less.

Instead, sheriff's officials announced Thursday that an undisclosed medical condition led them to reassign Hilton to electronic monitoring, despite Sauer's specifically barring that option. Baca strongly denied that Hilton had received any preferential treatment and said she had served about the same time in jail as others sentenced for similar crimes.

To the displeasure of prosecutors and the judge, Hilton returned to her Hollywood Hills home, where she was met by family and an assortment of gourmet cupcakes.

"If law enforcement officials are to enjoy the respect of those we are charged with protecting, we cannot tolerate a two-tiered jail system where the rich and powerful receive special treatment," Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo said.

A spokesman for Sauer said the judge disagreed with letting Hilton out and told sheriff's officials that her release "did not concur" with his sentence.

Two members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which oversees funding for the Sheriff's Department, called for a full report within the week from Baca on what led to Hilton's release. County officials said they received hundreds of angry phone calls and e-mails from constituents.

"It sends a strong message to our youth that you can flout the law if you have money and fame," Supervisor Mike Antonovich said. "Where is the fairness?"

Baca defended Hilton's release, saying, "The minute I was informed by the doctors about her medical condition, I realized the system was not able to respond effectively to these problems."

He said that three days behind bars was more than most defendants charged with a similar crime -- violating probation by driving with a suspended license -- would receive.

Baca, whose jails treat tens of thousands of sick and mentally ill inmates each year, said no favoritism was involved.

"We did what is best and what is justice," Baca said. "Some people have an attitude that she was not punished enough."

Steve Whitmore, Baca's spokesman, said the sheriff made the decision well aware "that he was going to be criticized from every avenue."

The decision, Whitmore said, was made after "extensive consultation with medical personnel at the jail, her doctors, command staff at the jail, sheriff's command staff."

Whitmore said privacy issues precluded him from releasing details about Hilton's condition.

Hilton, through her attorney Richard Hutton, issued a statement in which she thanked the Sheriff's Department for "treating me fairly and professionally."

Although Hilton has become a lightning rod for many who see inequities in the justice system, the reality is more complicated.

Because of overcrowding in Los Angeles County jails, release criteria now call for female offenders to be freed after serving 10% of their projected sentence. So for an inmate who, like Hilton, was sentenced to 45 days, serving no more than four days would be the norm. (There are no statistics on how much time probation violators serve in jail.)

But in Hilton's case, Sauer issued specific instructions for a longer sentence: no private jail, no electronic monitoring, no early release.

Her release despite the judge's objections highlights a long-standing fight between the Sheriff's Department and the courts over time actually served.

Regardless of what the judge said, time actually served by county inmates is still determined by the sheriff, who is allowed to release them early under federal orders to reduce crowded conditions.

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