Brown seeks reprieve from prison-fund demand

Legal News Line Dec. 10, 2008, 12:11pm

Jerry Brown (D)

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline) - California Attorney General Jerry Brown has urged the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse a lower-court decision requiring California to pay the first $250 million of an $8 billion plan to build more prisons.

The contentious court battle between California and the federally appointed receiver commissioned with improving the health care and facilities of the state's prison system continued to escalate with Brown's latest appeal Tuesday.

"This decision is in blatant violation of federal law, which forbids federal judges from ordering states to build new state prisons," Brown said. "This is particularly unacceptable at a time when California is facing a $25 billion deficit."

The $250 million payment was supposed to be the first installment of the $8 billion settlement from the 2002 case of Plata v. Schwarzenegger, a class action lawsuit that determined California inmates were receiving inadequate care that amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

Federal receiver Clark Kelso sued the state earlier this year and asked the court to hold Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Controller John Chiang in contempt for their refusal to pay him the money needed to construct new prisons and improve inmate health care.

Brown has argued that Kelso hasn't even spent the money given by the Legislature in previous years, and that he hasn't properly disclosed his construction plans.

"While ... Kelso has acknowledged that his project 'will result in the construction of 7 million square feet of new medical facilities - the equivalent of 70 Wal-Mart stores' he has released to the public only one version of his plans," a press release issued by the attorney's general office on Tuesday stated. "An earlier version - which he describes in graphic detail important elements of the $8 billion construction program - has been kept under court seal."

Brown said Kelso does not have the legal authority to force the project without legislative approval.

California's budget crisis, which has become so dire in the face of a growing budget deficit that is expected to hit $30 billion, has forced the Legislature to hold months of special budget meetings.

Earlier this week, state Treasurer Bill Lockyer announced that all public works programs in the state could screech to a halt in the coming weeks if the legislature does not act to fix the budget.

Chaing has said the state will likely run out of money, barring a change in course, by March.

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