[Ppnews] Fury at hearing on California prison mental health case

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Mar 28 18:25:20 EDT 2013

  Fury at hearing on California prison mental health case

By Denny Walsh and Sam Stanton
dwalsh at sacbee.com <mailto:dwalsh at sacbee.com>
Published: Thursday, Mar. 28, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Thursday, Mar. 28, 2013 - 1:39 pm

The Brown administration's high-stakes motion to wrest control of 
California's prisoner mental health care 
<http://topics.sacbee.com/health+care/> away from federal court 
oversight ran into a buzz saw Wednesday.

An angry U.S. District Court judge said state corrections officials 
engaged in a "profound ethical violation" when their experts quizzed 
inmates without the knowledge of the prisoners' lawyers.

The merits of the state's motion to terminate Judge Lawrence K. 
Karlton's hold over the treatment of 33,000 inmates who suffer from 
serious mental health disorders 
<http://topics.sacbee.com/health+disorders/> were shoved into the 
background when Karlton took the bench. He immediately lashed out at 
state corrections officials and their attorneys over what he said were 
the unethical methods employed by their experts.

Karlton made no ruling on the state's motion, and the ethical issue now 
hangs like a dark cloud over the long-running class-action lawsuit that 
Gov. Jerry Brown says needs to end.

In a hearing that lasted about 90 minutes, Karlton continually pondered 
and mused aloud about how to proceed in light of this development. 
Compounding his quandary, he said, is the statutory mandate that he must 
rule by April 7.

The attorneys for the inmates, who insist that conditions in the 
sprawling prison system <http://topics.sacbee.com/prison+system/> are 
still woefully inadequate and contribute to high suicide rates, 
<http://topics.sacbee.com/suicide+rates/> contend the state's actions 
were so egregious that the judge should throw out the evidence in 
support of its motion.

At issue are a series of tours, interviews and records inspections that 
experts hired by the state conducted at numerous prisons. The inmates' 
lawyers say these actions were carried out secretly, despite the legal 
requirement that the lawyers be present for every interaction between 
people working for the state and seriously mentally ill patients who 
have counsel.

"They interviewed our mentally ill clients without our knowledge about 
the case and then they used the evidence (to buttress their claims that 
conditions in the prisons have improved)," Don Specter, head of the 
Prison Law Office, said after the hearing.

"They didn't really explain to the mentally ill clients what the purpose 
of the interviews were, so the inmates had no idea who they were 
speaking to."

Those interviews, tours and clinical records inspections formed the 
basis for 50 expert declarations filed with the court by the state. They 
now are central to the dispute over whether California has made enough 
progress improving mental health care in its prisons so that the 
treatment has finally been elevated to a constitutional level.

The inmates' attorneys want the declarations thrown out, a move that 
would cripple the state's efforts to rid itself of the 23-year-old class 

Jeffrey Beard, the newly appointed secretary of the California 
Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, 
told reporters that "there was no intention to hide anything."

"In fact, when you go into a prison, there are no secrets in jail," 
Beard said. "The very first prison that someone goes in, everyone knows 
they're there."

Beard added that he remains optimistic that Karlton will let the expert 
testimony remain in the case.

The experts' declarations describe improvements the state has made in 
mental health care, and are the underpinning for the argument that the 
state can now handle it without court supervision.

But Karlton made it clear during the hearing that he is deeply troubled 
by the dilemma he finds himself in over a case that was first filed in 1990.

"I think this is a serious matter, a very serious matter," Karlton told 
Deputy Attorney General Patrick McKinney, who was arguing for the state.

Karlton acknowledged that the state has made tremendous progress in 
reforming the horrific overcrowded conditions that compromised its 
ability to provide basic mental health and medical care to the inmates. 
Those conditions led to a U.S. Supreme Court 
<http://topics.sacbee.com/U.S.+Supreme+Court/> endorsement of a 2009 
court order to reduce inmate population to 137.5 percent of design 
capacity by the end of this year.

The Brown administration contends it has done enough to improve 
conditions, and McKinney noted that the state now spends $400 million 
annually on mental health care for inmates.

"What we've seen year to year is the system just getting better," 
McKinney said.

He told Karlton that what the inmates' lawyers and a court-appointed 
special master want is "a perfect system," which is not attainable 
anywhere and is a goal that does not equate to a system in compliance 
with the Eighth Amendment's ban of "cruel and unusual"punishment.

But Michael Bien, the lead attorney for the inmates, said there is still 
evidence of "deliberate indifference" to the lack of adequate treatment 
on the part of prison officials. Clinical and custodial staffing 
problems still exist at some institutions, depriving inmates of 
acceptable treatment by psychiatrists or other mental health care 
providers, he said.

He added that he, his fellow attorneys and the court's special master 
have no way of knowing which inmates were interviewed by the state's 
experts, when the interviews took place, or what their clients told the 

"Here we have a mess," Bien said. "I don't know what records they saw. 
They haven't shared what they saw."

Calling the situation "unique" in the history of the Prison Litigation 
Reform Act of 1996, upon which the state's motion turns, Karlton 
discussed his options and asked for suggestions from McKinney and Bien.

The act mandates that such a motion must be decided within 90 days of 
its filing – in this instance that is 10 days from now. Absent a ruling 
by then, all the orders Karlton has issued over the years are 
automatically stayed, which would in essence do what the state wants – 
throw control of mental health care back to California's corrections 

Under normal circumstances, the judge noted, he would hold an 
evidentiary hearing – essentially a mini-trial – and then make his 
decision, but the time constraints do not allow for that. Among 
Karlton's options, discussed by the judge with opposing counsel, are:

• Strike the court declarations from the state's experts and reject the 
motion for lack of evidence.

• Fail to rule by the deadline, let the stay of his orders go into 
effect, and hold an evidentiary hearing. If he subsequently ruled in 
favor of the patients, the lawsuit would have to start again from square 
one – an expensive and time-consuming process, the judge noted.

• Find that imposition of the act's deadline in this complex, 
class-action suit is unconstitutional because it would deny due process 
to the parties, and then proceed with an evidentiary hearing. That 
precise issue has been before the U.S. Supreme Court only once, and it 
remains an open question because the high court deferred ruling. The 
case law created by various federal appellate opinions cuts in favor of 
the state.

• Rule on the state's termination motion based on the entire body of 
evidence submitted by the two sides. Karlton said he doesn't want to do 
that because he has no idea how much weight to give the declarations of 
the state's experts given the unethical way they gathered information.

/Call The Bee's Sam Stanton, (916) 321-1091 or The Bee's Denny Walsh, 
(916) 321-1189./

Read more here: 

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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