Sunday, April 20, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Inmate lawsuits cost Calif. $200M

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown has begun aggressively challenging federal court oversight of California’s prison system by highlighting what he says is a costly conflict of interest: The private law firms representing inmates and the judges’ own hand-picked authorities benefit financially by keeping the cases alive.

How much are they making?

A tally by The Associated Press, compiled from three state agencies, shows California taxpayers have spent $182 million for inmates’ attorneys and court-appointed authorities over the past 15 years. The payments cover a dozen lawsuits filed over the treatment of state prisoners, parolees and incarcerated juveniles, some of which have been settled.

The total exceeds $200 million when the state’s own legal costs are added.

While the amounts are a blip on California’s budget, they provide a continuous income stream for the private attorneys and experts involved in the ongoing litigation. And that is the point Brown is trying to make.

The AP sought the tally after the Democratic governor began using court filings and public appearances to call for an end to two major lawsuits that have forced the state to spend billions of dollars improving its medical and mental health care for prison inmates. Brown says the complaints are expensive, frivolous and motivated by attorneys’ own financial interest.

“They don’t want to go away,” he said last month, standing behind a stack of court documents. “I mean, the name of the game here is, ‘Come to Sacramento and get your little piece of the pie.’”

Brown says that, thanks to recent overhauls, California now offers inmates the best medical and mental health care of any prison system in the nation.

Inmates’ lawyers and the court-appointed authorities overseeing inmate medical and mental health say the system, with more than 132,000 inmates, remains crowded and still has problems with suicides and mentally ill prisoners who deserve better care. They say they are not motivated by profit, but by a desire to protect prisoners’ constitutional right to be free from cruel treatment.

“It’s ridiculous for the governor to merely characterize these cases as being about money, when in fact these cases have been the only impetus in the last 20 years for reducing the prison population and improving conditions,” said Donald Specter, director of the nonprofit Prison Law Office in Berkeley, which has won several major cases against the state.

The nonprofit, which has taken the lead in suing the state over inmate health care, and other legal firms have been paid $8.3 million in that case.

Many of the lawsuits are continuing despite the billions of dollars spent to improve treatment for the state’s felons and a massive realignment of the state’s penal system. The realignment has transferred responsibility for incarcerating tens of thousands of convicts from the state to the counties to reduce prison crowding.

Brown says inmate care now exceeds constitutional standards. He argues that what he called “the prison lobby” — lawyers and the court-appointed special master overseeing penitentiary improvements — is perpetuating the legal action to make money.

“We’ve got hundreds of lawyers wandering around the prisons looking for problems,” he said.

The state has paid nearly $83 million to private law firms and the court-appointed authorities involved in the two major lawsuits that have forced the state to reduce its prison population and improve inmate medical and mental health treatment, according to the figures provided at the AP’s request. The costs were provided by the corrections department, the state Department of Justice and the prison medical receiver’s office and compiled by the AP.

In his budget address last month, Brown said the money that would be saved by ending court oversight in the mental health and health care cases could be spent instead on inmate education, substance abuse treatment and other rehabilitation programs, as well as to supervise convicts once they leave prison.

J. Clark Kelso, the court-appointed receiver who controls California’s prison health care system, is paid $224,000 annually, and his administration costs taxpayers about $2 million a year. The receivership has spent $2.4 million for lawyers.

Receiver spokeswoman Joyce Hayhoe said Kelso expects to return control to the state as soon as it proves it can properly care for inmates.

“There is no effort on our part to delay any part of this case,” she said.

The governor has taken particular aim at the court-appointed monitor overseeing inmate mental health care, Matthew Lopes.

The state has paid the special masters in that case and the prison experts they have hired more than $48 million since 1997, the earliest year for which reliable records can be found, according to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The beneficiaries of those payments include Lopes, who has been the special master for more than five years, and his Rhode Island law firm, Pannone Lopes and Devereaux LLC. The previous special master left in 2007.

In a court filing last month, the governor’s administration said Lopes’ ever-expanding standards for care have no relation to the real world and do not acknowledge the steps the state has taken to improve treatment.

“Perhaps the reason is because there is no incentive for the special master to be objective in this case,” the administration said in disputing Lopes’ conclusion that the state still provides substandard mental health care. “Further monitoring ensures that this revenue stream will continue.”

Lopes said he could not comment because the matter is part of the ongoing legal dispute.

“There’s no evidence that backs that up, other than saying, ‘Oh, he got all that money’ and they don’t like his reports,” said Michael Bien, the lead attorney representing the welfare of mentally ill inmates.

Bien’s San Francisco law firm, Rosen Bien Galvan and Grunfeld, is among the firms that have been paid $19 million by the state in the inmate mental health lawsuit.

He said Brown and the state would be better off working with Lopes to reduce inmate suicides and improve mental health treatment.

Later Monday, the inmates’ attorneys planned to file their formal response to Brown’s criticism of Lopes’ recent report.

Bien and other inmates’ attorneys are paid by taxpayers only if they can prove a federal or constitutional violation, and by law are then paid at a rate hundreds of dollars below what they would usually charge. They also have to pay out of pocket for expert witnesses.

“This is really offensive to say that I’m doing this for the money,” Bien said. “I didn’t do it to get rich.”

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

Solano News

Supervisor candidates vary on Plan Bay Area

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A1, 12 Comments | Gallery

 
Earth Day means cleanup Day for Suisun City

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A1, 4 Comments | Gallery

Hop to it: Couple lights up home, yard for Easter

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: C1

 
Bay Area makes growth plans

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A1, 1 Comment

Ranking the best Bay Area athletes

By Brad Stanhope | From Page: A2

 
The Edge hosts Easter egg hunt

By Adrienne Harris | From Page: A3

Alooma Temple keeps children in mind

By Adrienne Harris | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
Fairfield author to speak at women’s expo

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

The resurrection has changed the lives of Christians

By Perry W. Polk | From Page: C3

 
Piano scholarship competition set in Vallejo

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

 
Understanding your health insurance

By Morgan Westfall | From Page: D4, 1 Comment

 
Armijo graduate completes basic training

By Nick DeCicco | From Page: C4

 
Record Store Day a commercial hit

By Adrienne Harris | From Page: A5 | Gallery

Easter egg hunt brings out the smiles

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A5 | Gallery

 
Dutch Bros. joins Fairfield coffee corridor

By Barry Eberling | From Page: B7, 4 Comments | Gallery

City sets plan to dispose of property assets

By Brian Miller and Karl Dumas | From Page: B7, 1 Comment

 
Fairfield police log: April 17, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

Suisun City police log: April 17, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

 
.

US / World

Counties tell Brown they need money for his law

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1, 1 Comment

 
San Francisco probe leading to entrapment claims

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

Exhibit recreates Warhol’s 1964 World’s Fair mural

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
NASA’s space station Robonaut finally getting legs

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10 | Gallery

Ohio couple married 70 years die 15 hours apart

By The Associated Press | From Page: A11 | Gallery

 
Documents detail another delayed GM recall

By The Associated Press | From Page: A11, 1 Comment

Official: 3 bodies retrieved from inside ferry

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13 | Gallery

 
13th body pulled from snow in Everest avalanche

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

At barricades, Ukraine insurgents await Easter

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

 
Costa Rican a celebrity after certified miracle

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14 | Gallery

.

Opinion

Editorial Cartoons for April 20, 2014

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Question of the week: Will Flight 370 be found?

By Daily Republic | From Page: A8

Neighborhood speeders don’t get it

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A8, 4 Comments

 
Why would a person do this?

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A8, 3 Comments

 
Sound off for April 20, 2014

By Daily Republic | From Page: A8

Government … for the government?

By Bill James | From Page: A8, 9 Comments

 
Jeb Bush, love, and today’s GOP

By Ruben Navarrette | From Page: A9, 1 Comment

 
 
.

Living

Community Calendar: April 20, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

 
Today in History for April 20, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

Book details lives of cloistered nuns

By The Associated Press | From Page: C3

 
Bill Nye says he underestimated debate’s impact

By The Associated Press | From Page: C3, 4 Comments

Horoscopes for April 20, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: D4

 
Pete spends weekends at my house but he never invites me to his

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: D4

.

Entertainment

Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers has book deal

By The Associated Press | From Page: C2

 
Tartt, Goodwin finalists for Carnegie medals

By The Associated Press | From Page: C2

New book on fracking illuminates pros, cons

By The Associated Press | From Page: C2

 
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY BEST-SELLERS

By The Associated Press | From Page: C2

TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B11

 
.

Sports

A’s score 3 in 9th, rally past Astros 4-3

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Warriors beat Clippers 109-105 in playoff opener

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Kings, Sharks look to put Game 1 in past

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Stults, Padres hand Giants third straight loss

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Calathes suspension a reminder of supplement risk

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Raptors GM Ujiri uses profanity about Brooklyn

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Williams scores 24 as Nets beat Raptors 94-87

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

Durant leads Thunder past Grizzlies 100-86

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Hawks take 1-0 lead by rolling past Pacers 101-93

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Federer beats injured Djokovic to reach final

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3 | Gallery

 
Wie shoots 67, wins LPGA LOTTE Championship

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

Travis Bowl Highlights

By Daily Republic | From Page: B4

 
Rapids, Earthquakes play to scoreless tie

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

Stars Recreation bowling results

By Daily Republic | From Page: B4

 
Jimenez leads Langer by 1 shot in Greater Gwinnett

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

Donald shoots 66, takes lead at RBC Heritage

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

 
Big names among prospective Buffalo Bills buyers

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

Indians set two new school records for track

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B4

 
Award-winning archery champ shoots with his teeth

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6 | Gallery

Survivors keep busy as Boston Marathon approaches

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

 
.

Business

US delays review of contentious Keystone pipeline

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

 
Why high oil prices are actually good for airlines

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

Subscription sample boxes shake up beauty routines

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
Girls from modest families get lift in technology

By The Associated Press | From Page: B12

Haunted house part of San Antonio apartment lofts

By The Associated Press | From Page: B13

 
Recalls this week: lanterns, exercise devices

By The Associated Press | From Page: B13

Review: Siri-like Cortana fills Windows phone gap

By The Associated Press | From Page: B14

 
.

Obituaries

Lloyd G. Hoffmeister

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Ramon Isidro

By Adrienne Harris | From Page: A4

Rogelio Tinoco-Zamudio

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

 
James Leroy Barbour

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

William Paul Wehrly

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Sealwyn Shirley Brucefield Shepherd Malkiewicz

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

Anne Irene Elizabeth Fulgoni

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

 
Margaret Elizabeth Silva

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

.

Comics