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Old 01-27-2005, 07:23 PM
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Default Panel Backs Gov.'s Parole Board Picks


Panel Backs Gov.'s Parole Board Picks
The Senate committee's vote is likely to ensure confirmation for a crime
victims' advocate, but lack of diversity among candidates concerns
By Jenifer Warren
Times Staff Writer

January 27, 2005

SACRAMENTO ? A key Senate committee on Wednesday endorsed a controversial
board member appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, despite protests from
those who say she brings a bias to the job of deciding which inmates are
for release.

Susan Fisher's approval by the Rules Committee means her confirmation to the
board by the full Senate is all but certain.

While giving her and a second appointee their blessing, however, senators
the governor that future candidates will face longer odds unless they come
different backgrounds.

Fisher was a leading crime victims' advocate before her appointment, and the
other appointee, Board Chairwoman Margarita Perez, has a background in
corrections. The remaining four members previously worked in law enforcement.

"The governor has three more appointments, and the fact that there is a dire
lack of real diversity on this panel is something that I ? will talk to him
about," said Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland), who heads the
Rules Committee. The law, he added, requires a parole board that reflects a
cross-section of society, "and we're not getting that."

Commissioners on the nine-member board evaluate the roughly 25,000 killers
other inmates convicted of serious crimes whose life sentences make them
eligible for release. Members are paid $99,693 a year; the chairwoman earns

Fisher, 51, was appointed in February, immediately sparking concern among
advocates, who asked whether her past as a leading champion of crime victims
might make it difficult for her to be impartial.

That criticism flared anew earlier this month, when an inmate seeking parole
asked to have her case heard in Superior Court. The inmate, Linda Ricchio,
convicted of murdering Fisher's brother in 1987. Although Fisher was not
scheduled to decide the case personally, Ricchio said that other board
would be influenced by Fisher's connection to the crime.

On Wednesday, nine witnesses opposed her confirmation and four spoke in

Fisher told the committee that her views on life-term prisoners had changed
dramatically since she took the job. When she began, she said, "I believed
a few inmates were suitable for release and that the vast majority deserved
spend the rest of their lives in prison.

"But I quickly realized that things are not black and white," she said. "When
you're able to grant a [parole] date to an inmate who has done a great job
rehabilitating himself, it's a great feeling."

In her initial 10 months on the job, Fisher granted parole dates to about 7%
inmates who have come before her, slightly below the board average.

Fisher was confirmed on a 5-0 vote. Perez, who was questioned sharply about a
backlog of cases that creates long delays for inmates, was confirmed on a 4-0
vote with one abstention.


Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times
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