Calif. drops conflict claim against prison monitor

By By DON THOMPSON

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown's administration has withdrawn a conflict of interest claim against a court-appointed monitor overseeing mental health treatment within California's prison system, even as it continues its criticism of the federal courts' costly oversight of certain prison operations.

The administration amended a court filing Tuesday night to drop its complaint that special master Matthew Lopes might be increasing the mental health requirements for the state as a way to keep the "revenue stream" flowing to his law firm.

A judge last week gave the administration five days to withdraw what he called an unsubstantiated "smear" or face the possibility of court-ordered sanctions.

The administration then backed away from the claim but expanded its objections that the special master is costing California too much money.

"The State does not allege that the Special Master is unethical, nor does it impugn his character. But it is indisputable that in a time of extreme fiscal hardship, the State is paying large sums to the Special Master and his staff," the state said in its filing.

Special masters and their experts in the mental health lawsuit have been paid more than $48 million since a court-appointed monitor was established 17 years ago.

In the five years since he took over as special master, Lopes and his court-appointed experts have accounted for about half that money. His Rhode Island law firm has five lawyers assigned to monitor California's mental health treatment, each of whom bills the state an average of average of $30,000-$40,000 every month, the state said.

Lopes has said he cannot comment because the case is ongoing.

"They don't like the message, so they attack the messenger. And they attack in a way that is unethical and inappropriate," Michael Bien, the lead attorney representing the welfare of mentally ill inmates, said Wednesday. "In fact, the system continues to be plagued with continuous constitutional violations."

Bein's firm, Rosen Bien Galvan and Grunfeld of San Francisco, is the lead law firm in the mental health lawsuit on behalf of inmates. Inmates' attorneys led by Bien's firm have been paid $19 million by the state since 1997, according to figures compiled by The Associated Press.

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