Two men accused of violent felonies should be able to meet face to face with their lawyers in the Stanislaus County Public Safety Center despite a Sheriff's Department policy that restricts such visits for defense attorneys, a judge ruled Thursday.
Superior Court Judge Nancy Ashley stopped short of striking the Sheriff's Department policy for the rest of the center's 530 inmates. It was instituted in June and compels attorneys in most circumstances to talk with their clients through security glass using two-way phones.
"I'm not trying to rewrite their policy," Ashley said.
She said Eric Arguello, who is accused of a double murder, and Carlos Gallegos, charged with carjacking and robbery, should be able to speak with their lawyer in person.
Defense attorney Martin Baker argued charges against Arguello and Gallegos should be thrown out because jail officials were interfering with his ability to represent them.
Ashley disagreed, calling the request to dismiss charges a "harsh" and unwarranted move.
During a 1½-day hearing, attorneys put the Sheriff's Department policy on trial.
Baker said the new rules reserving face-to-face visits only for special situations were "irrational." Exceptions include inmates facing the death penalty or attorneys who must review audio, video or large amounts of paperwork.
"There have been thousands of contact visits over the years since the safety center was built," Baker said. "(Jail staff) continue to allow contact visits there, such as with a chaplain or psychiatrists."
Deputy District Attorney Marlisa Ferreira argued the increase in inmate assaults and the minimal staffing levels at the safety center made contact visits a legitimate security concern for officials.
"The sheriff's office is not depriving Mr. Arguello of his Sixth Amendment right (to counsel)," Ferreira said. "I understand that counsel does not like ... not being able to interact with his client freely. ... (But the policy) is clearly related to legitimate governmental interests."
Jail commander Lt. Gregg Clifton testified April 1 that inmate assaults rose 21 percent from 2008 to 2009, but said he knew of no such incident involving an attorney among the thousands of face-to-face visits conducted in private interview rooms over the years.
Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2337.