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Federal judge dismayed with slap at California prison monitor

February 13, 2013|By Paige St. John

A federal judge has rebuked Gov. Jerry Brown's lawyers for taking a swipe at the court-appointed monitor for prison mental health care.

U.S. District Senior Judge Lawrence Karlton on Wednesday issued an order giving California five days to either show why its allegations against Special Master Matthew Lopes should remain in the court record, or take them back. "The court takes very seriously any allegation of unethical conduct," Karlton wrote.

"However, the court can only be dismayed by the cavalier manner in which defendants ... level a smear against the character and reputation of the Special Master..." he continued.

The order is in response to a motion the state filed Jan. 29, suggesting Lopes submitted a report highly critical of the state's delivery of psychiatric care, including a climbing inmate suicide rate, to continue his own funding as special master. "Perhaps the reason is because there is no incentive for the special master to be objective in this case," Brown's lawyers wrote. "To date, the state has paid the special master, his Rhode Island law firm, and his team of monitors and experts nearly $48 million ... Further monitoring ensures that this revenue stream will continue."

Brown's administration in the past month has become increasingly critical of federal oversight of the state's prisons and the cost of responding to class-action cases and court orders over prison crowding, inmate health care, mental health services and dental care. California now faces another potential class action over the long-term isolation of inmates in high-security segregation cells.

Other court documents filed this week show Brown's administration refused a request by the court-appointed medical receiver to hire additional staff to conduct prison reviews. The state also complained to the court about the pace of those prison reviews.

Plaintiffs attorneys representing inmates, meanwhile, filed their own petition on Tuesday seeking population caps on each of the state's 33 individual prisons, rather than continuing to allow California to report prison crowding as a statewide average. 

paige.stjohn@latimes.com

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