The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a $2.15 million settlement with a man held in a state mental hospital for more than 12 years while awaiting trial on the question of whether he should be committed as a sexually violent predator.
In 2019, a trial judge dismissed a longstanding petition to have Rodrigo DeCasas committed under civil law, finding that DeCasas was deprived of his due process right to a speedy trial. The 2nd District Court of Appeal affirmed that decision in 2020. DeCasas sued the county’s public defender and members of the county board, alleging that his constitutional rights were violated.
DeCasas was sentenced to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty in 1994 to one count of a forcible lewd act with a child under 14 years old, three counts of lewd acts with children under 14 and one count of continuous sexual abuse of a child under 14. In 2006, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office filed a petition to have him classified as a sexually violent predator. That request was supported by evaluations diagnosing DeCasas with pedophilia and schizophrenia.
However, defense experts said he does not satisfy that criteria and doesn’t have a diagnosed mental illness within the meaning of the Sexually Violent Predator Act. At an initial hearing, the court ordered DeCasas to “remain in custody in a secure facility” pending trial, and DeCasas waived his right to be present at subsequent hearings.
During a 2013 hearing, a judge found there was probable cause to believe that DeCasas was likely to engage in sexually violent predatory criminal behavior on his release and ordered him to remain in custody. The case was subsequently postponed multiple times. In his suit against the county, attorneys for DeCasas argued that a systemic breakdown in the Public Defender’s Office created the delays.
That claim was supported by a letter from public defenders to the Board of Supervisors and other communications with senior management warning that cuts to their unit would jeopardize their ability to effectively represent clients. In a corrective plan submitted to the board, county risk managers acknowledged that staffing reductions in the unit responsible for these kinds of cases left lawyers feeling that they didn’t have the resources to bring cases to trial.
However, according to risk managers, an audit of such cases by the Public Defender’s Office found that the number of cases was actually falling and claimed that testimony by a public defender in the DeCasas case about rising numbers were “misrepresentations.”
A “failure to obtain clear time waivers from clients who preferred to remain at the state hospital during court appearances,” was also listed by risk managers as a root cause of DeCasa’s lawsuit.