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Senate confirms Hoffman as new state parole chief

The Senate voted 24-16 on Monday to confirm Thomas Hoffman to head the parole division at the Department of Corrections.

The vote was a defeat for Republican senators, who had sought to derail Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s nominee over allegations that Hoffman had sought to undercut the Board of Parole Hearings. All 15 GOP senators voted against Hoffman, joined by moderate Democrat Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana.

Hoffman, 52, is a career police officer and a Republican. But some GOP senators took issue with an alleged attempt by Hoffman to undercut the Parole Board and give more discretion to Corrections staff on parole matters. In a press release at the end of June, Senator Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, said Hoffman “openly advocates violating the law.” Senator Jeff Denham, R-Merced, termed him “a threat to public safety.”

Denham said that they did not anticipate Hoffman would come up yet, but that growing GOP opposition may have been a factor.

“I think the longer it would have sat there, the more likely we would have convinced other members,” Denham said.

Because Hoffman had been on the job for almost a year, Senate Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, had to bring his nomination for a vote before legislative recess, scheduled for later this month. Some on the GOP side claimed Perata sought to shut down debate on Hoffman when he appeared before the Senate Rules Committee on June 27, after he faced aggressive questions from Senator Roy Ashburn, R-Bakersfield. Hoffman passed Rules by a 3-2, party-line vote.

“I’ve seen steaks grilled longer than Hoffman,” said Denham’s chief of staff, Jim Kjol, of the hearing.

Crime victim’s rights groups have been pressuring the Senate to reject Hoffman. On June 28, Christine Ward, executive director of the Doris Tate Crime Victims Bureau, sent a letter to all Senators urging Hoffman’s defeat. She referred to him as “sneaky” and accused him of trying to “undercut parole board hearings.”

With several moderate Democrats moving from the Assembly to the Senate, Republicans had a clear strategy for targeting the votes they need. The short list begins with those who joined them in opposing SB 242, a $215.8 million appropriations bill which included the $75,000 wrongful imprisonment payment to a convicted rapist who was cleared of a murder charge, carried by Senator Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch. Those no votes came from Correa, Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Montclair, and Jenny Oropeza, D-Long Beach.

Other moderate Democrats reportedly targeted by Republican and victim’s rights advocates included Elaine Alquist, D-San Jose, Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, and Denise Ducheny, D-Chula Vista. In the end, all but Correa voted for Hoffman

Senate minority leader Dick Ackerman, R-Tustin, was the only Republican to vote for Torlakson’s appropriations bill, but he joined with his colleagues in voting against Hoffman.

Republicans lost a similar vote in April when the Senate voted 28-11 to confirm Linda Shelton as parole commissioner. Some GOP Senators took issue with several votes she made to release violent felons that she made after being appointed in February. Shelton is up for reconfirmation in January. Denham said she will most likely come back before the Senate in the fall, when they’ll make another attempt to defeat her.

GOP senators based their case against Hoffman on a series of May emails between Hoffman and Corrections staff. An agreement cut during the administration of Governor Gray Davis gives Corrections staff some leeway on whether to report minor parole violations to the Parole Board.

According to his critics, Hoffman’s email trail shows that he sought to expand and codify the ability to withhold information from the Parole Board. In one email, Hoffman writes to Scott Kernan, chief deputy secretary of Adult Operations at Corrections, “the political and social climate is right for us to push through a rewrite” of regulations around parole board hearings. He goes on to ask “Would you like us to take a lead on the rewrite? My staff and I are confident this would have a significant impact on our


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