California Department of Corrections Tries End-Run Around Federal Court
by Kevin Bliss
U.S. District Court Judge Kimberly J. Mueller stated in an October 2019 evidentiary hearing that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) knowingly presented misleading information to the court to appear more compliant with a prior ruling that found its mental health program was insufficient and in violation of patients’ constitutional rights. [See: PLN, Nov. 2015, p.56].
The plaintiffs and defendants were approaching a staffing proposal agreement when whistleblower and CDCR chief psychiatrist Dr. Michael Golding submitted a 161-page report to the court in October 2018, expressing concerns that CDCR practices had prevented quality confidential treatment for mental health patients. He called the data provided by prison officials “utter statistical rubbish.” The report prompted the evidentiary hearing.
In Mueller’s conclusions, she gave credence to Dr. Golding’s testimony without agreeing with his opinion that this was an intentional attempt by the CDCR to commit fraud. She said his testimony was supported by the testimony of a neutral expert brought in to investigate the claims, and, as a result, she listed three practices on which she based her conclusions.
First, the CDCR, against objections from Dr. Golding and the psychiatry department, redefined monthly treatment visitation from a 30-day period to a 45-day period (and later to 60 days). This major change, which affected statistics submitted to the Special Master overseeing court order compliance, was not cleared with the court before being implemented.
Next, the CDCR considered two-minute conversations with patients in open dormitories surrounded by other prisoners and guards as confidential appointments “seen as scheduled.” Testimony was submitted by several psychiatrists that meaningful treatment could not he provided during the nonconfidential, two-minute sessions held with patients behind steel doors.
Lastly, supervising psychiatrists were spending much of their time acting as line staff, allowing the CDCR to understate the amount of time they spent with patients and making it appear that the need for psychiatrists was decreasing.
Judge Mueller berated CDCR officials, saying they had plenty of opportunity to own up to their errors and begin correcting them, but they never did. Instead, she said they “engaged in knowing presentation of misleading information” to the court. More specifically, Dr. Ceballos, who played a significant role as supervising psychiatrist and a key contact to the Special Master, substantially undermined her position and the trust factor between the parties in the case.
Mueller directed the plaintiffs to submit suggestions for remediation before finalizing her order in December 2019. She said the defendants should be willing to cooperate in the true spirit of the original ruling. “Remediation may not be accomplished by end runs and hiding the ball to create a false picture to the court,” she wrote. See: Coleman v. Newsom, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Cal.), Case No. 2:90-cv-00520-LKK-DAD.
Additional sources: motherjones.com, Sacramento Bee
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