SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown has begun aggressively challenging federal court oversight of California’s prison system by highlighting what he says is a costly conflict of interest: The private law firms representing inmates and the judges’ own hand-picked authorities benefit financially by keeping the cases alive.
How much are they making?
A tally by The Associated Press, compiled from three state agencies, shows California taxpayers have spent $182 million for inmates’ attorneys and court-appointed authorities over the past 15 years. The payments cover a dozen lawsuits filed over the treatment of state prisoners, parolees and incarcerated juveniles, some of which have been settled.
The total exceeds $200 million when the state’s own legal costs are added.
While the amounts are a blip on California’s budget, they provide a continuous income stream for the private attorneys and experts involved in the ongoing litigation. And that is the point Brown is trying to make.
The AP sought the tally after the Democratic governor began using court filings and public appearances to call for an end to two major lawsuits that have forced the state to spend billions of dollars improving its medical and mental health care for prison inmates. Brown says the complaints are expensive, frivolous and motivated by attorneys’ own financial interest.
“They don’t want to go away,” he said last month, standing behind a stack of court documents. “I mean, the name of the game here is, `Come to Sacramento and get your little piece of the pie.’”
Brown says that, thanks to recent overhauls, California now offers inmates the best medical and mental health care of any prison system in the nation.
Inmates’ lawyers and the court-appointed authorities overseeing inmate medical and mental health say the system, with more than 132,000 inmates, remains crowded and still has problems with suicides and mentally ill prisoners who deserve better care. They say they are not motivated by profit, but by a desire to protect prisoners’ constitutional right to be free from cruel treatment.
“I mean, the name of the game here is, ‘Come to Sacramento and get your little piece of the pie.’”
Gov. Jerry Brown