Brown's effort to block prison funds fails in court

Legal News Line Oct. 6, 2008, 7:30pm

Jerry Brown (D)

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline)-California Attorney General Jerry Brown's days started off better than its ending on Monday, as a federal judge chastised him and other California officials for withholding $8 billion for the state's prison health care system.

Brown held a news conference on Monday to promote what he called a historic settlement with Bank of America that should protect hundreds of thousands of homeowners from foreclosure.

But the Democratic attorney general's focus shifted during the day to the court proceedings regarding the state's trouble finances.

U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson said California must pay the money that prison system receiver Clark Kelso sued for, and Brown sued to block. Kelso asked the judge to hold Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state Controller John Chiang in contempt of court for failure to release the money needed for seven new inmate medical facilities.

Henderson stopped short of issuing the contempt order, but he made said the state needed to pay up.

Henderson, according to published reports, repeatedly dismissed objections from the state saying Kelso "needs the money to run and improve it."

Medical care in prisons is so bad it has been ruled unconstitutional.

But Brown said Kelso had not already spent the $7 billion previously given to him, while criticizing the project for operating outside of public oversight.

The arguments failed in front of Henderson, who is expected to order that a minimum of $250 million be paid immediately to demonstrate good faith.

Henderson said the state's opposition to making the $8 billion payment was due only to political bickering - bickering which delayed the approval of the state's budget for a record setting 85 days this summer and fall - and that Schwarzenegger made "an 11th hour change of heart," in refusing to pay the money.

Schwarzenegger had asked the Legislature to approve making the $8 billion in payments over the next 25 years, which it failed to do.
Schwarzenegger's financial troubles continue to mount as the budget he reluctantly signed just two weeks ago is already coming up short because of falling revenue and declining credit.

Deputy Attorney General Daniel Powell told the judge that he believes the governor will need a specific order if it is to bypass the Legislature and pay the money to the prison system.

"I can do that by lunchtime," Henderson shot back.

Henderson said he would issue an order in the case within 48 hours.

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