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Prisoner advocates had hoped that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger would grant parole more often than his predecessor. But those hopes began to fade over the weekend as the new governor upended a handful of decisions by the Board of Prison Terms. Schwarzenegger reversed three decisions Friday night to grant parole to convicted murderers. That comes after two other reversals in recent days and one request that the board review a parole decision. Julie Dobie, a Schwarzenegger spokeswoman, said the administration had no comment on the governor’s weekend parole reversals. The moves echo the hard-line policy on parole by former Gov. Gray Davis. During his five years in office, Davis reversed nearly every BOP decision involving a convicted murderer. He approved only eight releases of 294 murderers that came across his desk Inmate lawyers had applauded Schwarzenegger during his first few days in office when he approved BOP release dates for two people convicted of second-degree murder. At the time, a spokesman for the new administration said Schwarzenegger would allow the board to do its job and would only intervene when he believes it’s made an egregious error. Now lawyers for prisoners are getting deja vu. “I think it’s a little early but it’s certainly not encouraging,” said Donald Specter of the Prison Law Office at San Quentin. Davis’ parole stance set off a wave of litigation by prisoner rights advocates, who argued the former governor was abusing his discretion with a policy that seemed based on his political beliefs, not a review of the evidence in each case. Specter was involved in the highest-profile challenge to the governor’s parole powers. He represented Robert Rosenkrantz, a convicted murderer whose parole had been approved by the BOP. Last year, the state Supreme Court in In re Rosenkrantz, 24 Cal.4th 616, rejected Rosenkrantz’s claim that Davis was misusing his power — issuing a clear victory for the governor. Courts could review and overturn the governor’s parole decisions, but they were to give the chief executive great deference, justices ruled. Several state cases challenging both Davis’ actions and decisions by the BOP are still alive. And in a new twist, lawyers now are pushing into federal court. Specter filed a federal habeas corpus petition on behalf of Rosenkrantz, but has since left the case. Rosenkrantz is now represented by Dennis Riordan of Riordan & Horgan in San Francisco. Schwarzenegger will soon get to make his own call on Rosenkrantz. The inmate — convicted of murdering a family friend who revealed that Rosenkrantz is gay — is due before the BOP again in early January. Another federal appeal is planned by lawyers for inmate Norman Morrall who shot and killed his wife in 1981. In a case that eventually went up to the Third District Court of Appeal, Morrall was granted a BOP release, only to be shot down by Davis. The BOP approved Morrall’s parole again one month ago, but Schwarzenegger rescinded it Friday, along with parole for two other inmates. In his letter to the BOP, Schwarzenegger adopted many of the same arguments used by Davis when he reversed Morrall. Morrall’s attorney, Randall Kim of Latham & Watkins, said he also is working on a federal habeas. Other than to say he would defer to the BOP, Schwarzenegger’s spokespersons would not go into detail about the governor’s policy about parole. Though Schwarzenegger initially appeared ready to adopt a more liberal parole policy than Davis’, the governor has apparently found some common ground with the man he replaced. Schwarzenegger’s Nov. 26 letter rejecting parole for convicted murderer Minda Wilcox was an almost exact duplicate of one sent to Wilcox by Davis on Sept. 26, 2002. “While I commend Ms. Wilcox for the gains she has made to date,” the letters from Davis and Schwarzenegger said, “I believe she would pose an unreasonable threat to public safety if released at this time.”

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