Valley Public Radio - Live Audio

Judge Criticizes State's Potential "Ethical Violations" in Prison Case

Mar 28, 2013

file photo
Credit Casey Christie / The Californian / Reporting on Health Collaborative

A federal judge says California may have committed ethical violations in a lawsuit over prison mental healthcare.  KPCC’s Julie Small reports the judge’s stern rebuke could de-rail Governor Jerry Brown’s push to free the state from over a decade of federal oversight.

Back in 1990 inmates, had to sue to force the state to give them timely access to psychiatric care.  A judge found the state’s mental health care system was so broken, he appointed a special master to monitor the state’s progress in reducing backlogs by building new facilities and hiring more staff.

Outside a federal court Wednesday, Secretary of Corrections Jeff Beard said California’s providing more than adequate care now.

“I think it’s time for this lawsuit to end, for the costly oversight to end, and for us to be able to move ahead,” said Beard.

But inside the court, the state’s chances of ending the inmate lawsuit and getting out from federal oversight quickly dimmed.  U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton said the state’s attorneys may have committed “a profound ethical violation” when they interviewed mentally ill inmates, without telling those inmates’ attorneys.
The Deputy attorney General for California insisted the state notified opposing counsel about their visits to 10 prisons.  Not so, says Michael Bien, the lead attorney for inmates.
“My clients had a right not to speak to them not to help them terminate this case,” says Bien.

Bien says that would be premature and put inmates at risk.  Bien says state attorneys also failed to tell him when they deposed their expert witnesses.

Judge Karlton said such violations may force him to strike the state’s evidence and dismiss their motion to end the case. If he does that, California won’t be able to file again for another year.  The judge is expected to make a decision by April 7th.