Donna Brorby has spent most of her life as a lawyer forcing Texas to clean up its notorious prisons, reports the Los Angeles Times, as counsel for Texas inmates in the nation’s longest-running civil rights case. Now, under a lawsuit settlement, she will oversee an overhaul of California state’s juvenile prison system, rocked this year by disclosures of violent conditions and substandard care. Both sides in the case agree that Brorby, 53, has the insider know-how, credibility, and temperament for the job. Less certain is whether the legal remedies she must enforce will turn around the California Youth Authority, home to 4,000 of the state’s toughest young lawbreakers.
To say she was viewed with disdain by Texas officials would be an understatement. “Donna is not a ‘hose and heels gal,’ ” said Scott McCown, once Texas’s lead lawyer on the prison case. “And she’d show up at these East Texas prisons in her bluejeans and tennis shoes looking like some liberal activist from San Francisco. By Texas standards, everything about her was weird and threatening.” In the California Youth Authority, Brorby confronts a system that once was a national model of juvenile rehabilitation but now sees three out of four of its parolees arrested on new charges within three years of release.