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Appeals court upholds receiver for state prisons

April 30, 2010 |  7:58 pm

A federal judge acted within his authority when he appointed a receiver to correct problems in the California prison network that deprived inmates of their constitutional rights to adequate medical care, a federal appeals court panel ruled Friday.

The decision by the three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s dismissal of a challenge brought by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to the appointment of a receiver to enforce court orders.

The orders had been issued in 2002, after years of class-action litigation brought by prisoners who claimed their 8th Amendment rights to be spared cruel and unusual punishment had been violated by abysmal medical care. U.S. District Judge Thelton E. Henderson agreed with the prisoners that prisoner care “too often sinks below gross negligence to outright cruelty.”

State officials didn’t appeal the 2006 appointment of a receiver but challenged it three years later after the appointee, J. Clark Kelso, drew up plans to build 10,000 new prison beds and sought more than $200 million from the state budget for the construction.

The 9th Circuit panel, all appointees of Democratic presidents, affirmed the dismissal of the state’s motion to terminate Kelso and dismissed on jurisdictional grounds the state’s request that it nix the construction plans.

-- Carol J. Williams