SACRAMENTO -- California's attorney general asked a federal appeals court Wednesday to block what he described as an extravagant spending proposal for prison medical facilities.
The Legislature has refused to act on the request for $8 billion made by the court-appointed receiver overseeing overhaul of California's prison health care system. Receiver J. Clark Kelso is seeking an immediate $250 million as a down payment.
In his court filing, Attorney General Jerry Brown argued that a federal judge cannot order the money from the state treasury without violating federal law and state sovereignty.
Brown also criticized the receiver's spending proposal, saying it has not been subject to proper review. He said the plan includes regulation-size basketball courts, electronic bingo boards, music and art therapy rooms, and landscaping to hide fences.
Brown cited additional amenities in a news release accompanying his court filing, including yoga rooms and horticulture therapy, that were included in an earlier draft from the receiver's office.
They did not make it into the most recent plan Kelso submitted to the court.
"Quite clearly, these amenities go well beyond what is required by the Eighth Amendment," which outlaws cruel and unusual punishment, the attorney general said in the brief.
He added that a court hearing is needed to judge the validity of the spending plan. In his news release, Brown said it was time for the court to "rein in" its receiver.
"Federal law does not allow the receiver to commandeer the finances of the state to spend $8 billion for unaccountable and extravagant prison construction," he said.
Spread over 25 years, the prison medical plan would cost California taxpayers about $14 billion with interest.
Kelso has asked a federal judge to hold Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in contempt of court for refusing to turn over the money. He said administration officials initially cooperated in his planning and cannot suddenly object when the bill comes due.
"The fact that the governor and the state are now trying to walk away from those agreements is a classic case of buyer's remorse," Kelso said in an e-mail response.
He said many of the amenities in his plan are required by state law or previous court decisions. Most of the criticism is directed toward a draft plan that was never approved and is no longer under consideration, he said.
Kelso said he has invited state officials and others to comment on his plans to reform the prison medical system and will continue to do so: "I am not running away from state oversight; to the contrary, I have endorsed it."
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is set to hear arguments in the case Feb. 12.
On Tuesday, Kelso proposed transferring up to 7,000 ailing inmates from rural prisons to those with quicker access to better medical care. He said the transfers are needed because the state has not provided money for the larger reform plan.
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