SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- A federal judge said Wednesday that he is “dismayed” that Gov. Jerry Brown's administration is questioning the objectivity of a court-appointed special master who oversees the treatment of mentally ill prison inmates.
The Democratic governor has been criticizing what he calls “the prison lobby” that profits from lawsuits filed against the state over substandard conditions in state prisons.
The administration said in a court filing last month that special master Matthew Lopes may be requiring the state to meet more stringent requirements as a way to ensure that “this revenue stream will continue.”
U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Karlton of Sacramento ordered the state to consider withdrawing what he called “a smear.”
“Defendants' attack consists of a raw assertion of unethical conduct, with no supporting evidence nor even any hint that defendants actually believe the attack they make,” Karlton wrote. He added later that “the court can only be dismayed by the cavalier manner in which defendants ... level a smear against the character and reputation of the Special Master.”
He said he takes legitimate allegations of unethical conduct seriously, but suggested the administration's filing may violate a court rule that allows sanctions for court filings that are intended to harass or are without any evidence.
Karlton gave the administration until next week to withdraw the assertion or show why he should not strike it from the court record.
Brown's office did not return a message seeking comment. A spokeswoman for the state attorney general, who represents the administration in the case, declined comment. Deborah Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said the department is reviewing the order and will respond next week.
“We look forward to the state getting out of the gutter and resolving this case on the merits rather than attacking the court and its special master,” said Michael Bien, the lead attorney representing the welfare of mentally ill inmates.
The filing was part of the administration's effort to end court oversight of the prisons' mental health treatment. Brown also wants federal judges including Karlton to lift an order that will require the state to reduce the prison population by about 10,000 inmates this year to reduce crowding.
“Prolonging this case is unnecessarily costing taxpayers millions,” Hoffman said. “Mental health care in our prisons exceeds constitutional standards and this case needs to come to an end.”
The Associated Press reported Monday that special masters and their experts in the mental health lawsuit have been paid more than $48 million since 1997. That accounts for a portion of the $182 million taxpayers have spent for inmates' attorneys and court-appointed authorities over the past 15 years for a dozen lawsuits filed over the treatment of state prisoners, parolees and incarcerated juveniles. The total tops $200 million when the state's own legal costs are added.