Today Barry A. Hazle, Jr. is a free man after winning a federal appeals case against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). U.S. District Judge Garland Burrell, Jr. found Hazle’s constitutional rights had been violated by the CDCR for forcing him to participate in a drug rehabilitation program which includes religion as part of its curriculum – Hazle is an atheist. Judge Burrell however would not grant Hazle monetary damages and ruled he had forfeited his right to challenge a prior jury ruling – which prompted Hazle to appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Hazle was arrested and forced back to prison by the CDCR once he said he would not participate in the religious aspects of the rehabilitation. His parole revoked, he spent the next three months in jail.
It was September, 2008 when Hazle sued the CDCR for monetary damages. Citing federal case law and six weeks after the filing of the lawsuit, the CDCR changed its policy to not force parolees to participate in religious-themed rehabilitation schemes. Hazle’s first attempt was unsuccessful as a Sacramento, California jury found that his constitutional rights had been violated, however was not entitled to monetary damages.
Judge Burrell found that Hazle’s forced participation in the program ran “afoul of the prohibition against the state’s favoring religion in general over non-religion,” thereby violating rights guaranteed him by the Constitution.
Burrell denied Hazle’s motion for a new trial, ruling he had forfeited a challenge to the verdict by not objecting before the jury was discharged, and that the jury did not find a specific defendant responsible for damages.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Burrell is wrong on multiple issues. Citing a 1983 U.S. Supreme Court opinion, the panel declared that awarding compensatory damages in a civil rights action is not a matter of discretion. Quoting the U.S. Supreme Court, the panel said, “Compensatory damages … are mandatory; once liability is found, the jury is required to award … damages in an amount appropriate to compensate the plaintiff for his loss.”
The appellate judges forced Judge Burrell to instruct the jury that Hazle was entitled to monetary compensation and Hazle was also entitled to a new trial for emotional distress damages due to inaccurate jury instructions by Judge Burrell. The appellate court also ruled Judge Burrell was incorrect to dismiss Westcare California, Inc. out of the case and reinstalled the company as a defendant. Westcare can expect to participate in whatever financial compensation Hazle receives for the violation of his constitutional rights. Westcare handled Hazle’s rehabilitation contract.
“It’s a great day,” Hazle is reported as saying. “Justice has been served. Now, at least, we’ll get a fair trial.”