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CDCR Violates State Law by Outsourcing Prisoner Lawsuits to Private Attorneys

CDCR Violates State Law by Outsourcing Prisoner Lawsuits to Private Attorneys

by Joe Watson

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has again lost a fight with the State Attorneys' Union over outsourcing prison litigation to a private law firm in Sacramento.

The State Personnel Board, California's civil service watchdog, ruled in September 2013 that a $6 million contract between CDCR and the firm Williams & Associates to defend against prisoner lawsuits violates an "implied statute" from California's constitution "prohibiting state agencies from contracting with private entities to perform work that the state has historically and customarily performed and can perform adequately and competently."

The contract was the second between CDCR and Williams & Associates; the first, known as "Williams I," was for three years and $5 million through summer 2012 and was struck down by the board.

Williams I was initiated because California Attorney General Kamala Harris—whose office is supposed to defend CDCR against prisoner lawsuits— claimed that budget cuts and furloughs had created a shortage of qualified state attorneys, thereby forcing her to return the work to CDCR and its own lawyers.

"Williams II," which is supposed to run through 2015, was inked after CDCR purported to have neither the staff nor the expertise to handle the caseload generated by California's 130,000-plus prisoners, a claim the board said in its ruling was "too convenient and against the weight of the evidence."

"It is ironic that they (CDCR) continue to claim that they lack the resources to do the work that is the subject of these contracts, yet seem to have no shortage of attorneys to defend these outsourcing challenges," said Peter Flores, president of the California Attorneys, Administrative Law Judges, and Hearing Officers in State Employment, the union also known as CASE.

It is expected, since CDCR continues to fight the board's Williams I ruling in court, that CDCR will also challenge the board's ruling on Williams II, though corrections officials have yet to reveal their intentions.

"Our legal office is reviewing the decision and examining the options," CDCR spokesman Jeffrey Callison wrote to the Bee in an email.

Callison did not indicate whether or not the "reviewing," would also be outsourced to a private law firm.

Sources: Sacramento Bee; California State Personnel Board, PSC No. 13-01 (SPB File No. 12-008(b)), Board Decision, Sept. 26, 2013