Appeals Court: Contempt Hearing Over Prison Health Care Can Proceed
On Wednesday, a federal appeals court ruled that contempt-of-court proceedings against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's (R) administration over its failure to provide a $250 million down payment for federal receiver J. Clark Kelso's prison health care construction planÂ can move forward, the San Francisco Chronicle reportsÂ (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 3/26).
U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson removed the prison medical system from state control more than two years ago after concluding that care provided to inmates did not meet constitutional standards.
Kelso submitted a plan seeking $8 billion to build seven new health centers for 10,000 prisoners and to improve some existing prison medical centers. Last month, Kelso said the cost could be cut in half because only 5,000 new beds may be needed (California Healthline, 3/25).
In appellate court proceedings, California Attorney General Jerry Brown (D) argued that a San Francisco federal judge violated the federal Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 and the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of state sovereignty when he ordered the governor and controller to provide the down payment for the project or risk being held in contempt (California Healthline, 12/9/08).
In yesterday's ruling, the court said it lacks the authority to consider whether Henderson's order to pay the $250 million violates state sovereignty because the state filed its appeal before the judge's order was finalized.
Using the same reasoning, the appeals court said it is too early to consider whether Kelso's plan to build new prison health care centers violates federal law (Thompson, AP/San Jose Mercury News, 3/25).
Lisa Page, a spokesperson for Schwarzenegger, said the governor would continue pushing Henderson "to recognize the fiscal restraints facing California and the excesses included in the receiver's construction plan."
She declined to comment on whether the governor would comply with Henderson's order to turn over the $250 million.
Kelso's Lawyer Responds
Kelso's lawyer, James Brosnahan, said the ruling paves the way for a trial on contempt. He added that it is "something that nobody wants to do, but we'll do it if we have to" (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/26).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.