Judge to Gov.: Pay for Prison Health Care or Else

Schwarzenegger Could be Put in Contempt of Court

A federal judge in San Francisco said Monday he plans to move ahead with a contempt-of-court hearing if California's governor and controller continue to refuse to make an initial $250 million payment for improved prison medical facilities.

"We need to proceed carefully here," U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson said this morning.

Henderson put the troubled prison health care system into court-supervised receivership in 2005 after concluding that medical care for prisoners was so deficient that it fell below constitutional standards, with one prisoner dying needlessly each week.

The initial $250 million payment is part of a total of $8 billion sought by prison health care receiver Clark Kelso to build improved facilities.

Henderson said he will review an order proposed by Kelso before signing it.

The proposed order would require Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state Controller John Chiang to transfer the $250 million to Kelso by Nov. 5, and would set a hearing for Nov. 12 on whether they should be found in contempt of court if they do not pay the money.

"It is clear to me we must move forward," Henderson said. "The (prison) health care system remains in a state of crisis. We cannot afford more delay."

Kelso's lawyers have argued that the $250 million is a good first step because it would come out of money previously appropriated by the Legislature for prison improvements.

But Deputy California Attorney General Daniel Powell argued today that Henderson lacked the power to order money taken from the state treasury.

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