Brown supports governor, controller in contempt case

Legal News Line Sep. 17, 2008, 12:48pm

Jerry Brown (D)

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline)-California Attorney General Jerry Brown has filed a motion in federal court in defense of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and California Controller John Chiang, following an effort for having both state leaders held in contempt of court.

In August, Federal Prison Receiver Clark Kelso issued a motion seeking the courts to force Schwarzenegger and Chiang to release $8 billion in state funds over the next five years for a prison healthcare facilities construction project, according to the Attorney General's office. Brown's motion sought to counter that effort.

"Last year the Legislature approved $7.4 billion in prison construction funds," Brown said. "That money hasn't even been spent yet, and the Receiver wants $8 billion more. We simply can't afford to keep throwing billions of dollars of public money into our state correctional system under the veil of secrecy. Once we spend the billions already allocated to improving healthcare in our prisons, then we can determine if more is needed."

Brown's motion argues that the federal court does not have the legal power to mandate state prison construction, according to the Attorney General's office.

In a press release issued Tuesday, the Attorney General's office said, "The Prison Litigation Reform Act, approved by Congress in 1996, makes clear that a court may not force a state to pay for prison construction without its consent."

The Receiver's $8 billion demand includes construction of new prison healthcare facilities containing 10,000 new beds for prisoners with acute and long-term health needs, the AG said.

"While California has acknowledged the need to provide constitutionally adequate healthcare, the Receiver has not presented convincing evidence that his wide-ranging plan is 'necessary and the least-intrusive' plan required by the U.S. Constitution," Brown added.

California built 23 prisons in 23 years, Brown said. In the last fiscal year budget prison spending topped $10 billion.

Schwarzenegger's has come under fire recently as a prison guard lobby group launched a recall effort following the governor's refusal to provide the requested funding.

Ironically, Chiang and Schwarzenegger were at odds last month, when both nearly went to court over Chiang's refusal to dock all state workers pay to minimum wage. Schwarzenegger demanded Chiang's compliance after the Legislature deadlocked over this year's fiscal budget, which is now more than 70 days past due. Sunday night the Legislature approved a budget, which is now awaiting Schwarzenegger's approval.

The budget impasse is the longest in state history.

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