Wednesday, October 16, 1996

CALIFORNIA PRISONS WIN MAJOR COURT VICTORY

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals today reversed a contempt of court order against the California Department of Corrections saying U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Karlton overstepped his authority in making such a ruling.

"I am elated at this decision" Corrections Director James H. Gomez said "It is a vindication of the State's position over the last two years that Judge Karlton was attempting to run the California prison system."

In their decision, Circuit Court Judges Goodwin, Farris, and Kleinfeld said that a consent decree requiring "appropriate" psychiatric care for inmates is not specific enough to hold prison officials in contempt for failing to provide such care.

"This is a 100 percent win for the taxpayers" said Gomez "It shows what can be accomplished by standing up to a federal judge who attempted to coerce State officials to spend taxpayer money without justification."

Karlton imposed a $10,000 a day fine, but stayed the fine as long as prison officials complied with his directives.

Circuit Judge Kleinfeld wrote" the practical effect of such a vague standard as "appropriate psychiatric care" is that the prison, and the state budget for the prison, remain under the continuing and largely unfettered supervision of the district court and its magistrate judge, mediator, special master, and experts, instead of the state political process and appointed prison administrators."

The consent decree settled a class action inmate lawsuit Jay Gates vs the California Department of Corrections. In the decree, CDC agreed to provide an "outpatient program that would provide appropriate psychiatric evaluation and treatment" for prison inmates. The Department spent over $10 million dollars on the program, but Judge Karlton said that was not enough to suit him and issued a contempt ruling.