Federal judges announce joint hearing
on prison cap bids
Photo courtesy Dan
By Julia Cheever
June 6, 2007
Two federal judges in San Francisco and Sacramento announced
today they will hold an unusual joint hearing June 27 in connection
with legal bids for a cap on the population in California's overcrowded
U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson of San Francisco and U.S.
District Judge Lawrence Karlton of Sacramento will hear arguments
on whether they should convene a special three-judge panel to
decide whether to impose a cap.
The joint hearing, which will take place in Sacramento, was announced
in an order issued by Henderson today.
Under a federal law governing prison lawsuits, an order limiting
prison population in a constitutional case can be made only by
a panel made up of two federal district judges and one U.S. appeals
Henderson and Karlton are both presiding over lawsuits in which
lawyers representing inmates have asked for such an order. Attorneys
for the prisoners have argued that reducing the number of inmates
is the only way of alleviating what they describe as "horrific"
and unconstitutional deficiencies in medical care.
The lawsuit before Henderson concerns general medical care and
the case before Karlton concerns mentally ill prisoners.
Last year, Henderson, after finding that prison medical care
was "abysmal," appointed a receiver to take over the
state's prison health care system.
U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken of Oakland is presiding over
a third case concerning disabled inmates. Lawyers in that case
have also asked for a three-judge panel.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said he hopes a recently announced
prison expansion and improvement proposal will help to solve dangerous
But Donald Specter, a lawyer representing prisoners in all three
lawsuits, said today the expansion plans don't solve the problem
because they increase the demand without increasing health care
Henderson and Karlton said in the order, "We conclude that
the interests of judicial economy weigh in favor of a joint hearing
in this matter."
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