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Judge orders California to defend 'secret' prison tours

March 19, 2013|By Paige St. John
  • In this photo taken as part of federal litigation over California prison conditions, inmates await a group therapy session at Mule Creek State Prison.
In this photo taken as part of federal litigation over California prison… (Image filed in U.S. District…)

California's legal efforts to end federal oversight of prison mental health care have run into trouble with the U.S. district judge hearing that case a second time.

In an order filed Monday, Judge Lawrence Karlton asked California to explain why he should not throw out statements of four of the state's expert witnesses, who contend they found adequate mental health care in the 10 prisons they toured.

Lawyers for prisoners contend the experts' testimony was based on secret tours of the state's prisons that were organized in 2011, without notifying plaintiffs or the court. Given that the court required prior prison tours to be conducted jointly, Karlton wrote, "common sense should have suggested" the same order would apply to future tours.

In addition, prisoners' lawyers object that those experts were free to interview their legal clients — inmates — without their presence. Inmate lawyers say that is a "violation of professional ethical obligations."

"The court takes these assertions by plaintiffs very seriously," Karlton wrote in Monday's order. The state has until Monday to defend its actions, and Karlton said he will take up the issue before beginning a March 27 hearing into the state's motion to end federal oversight.

Karlton previously took issue with the state's attacks on the court-appointed special master, whom California had accused of continuing to find problems in prison psychiatric care in order to draw out his pay. State lawyers withdrew those remarks from their legal briefings.

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