Stockton Record
November 26, 2009

By Scott Smith
Record Staff Writer
November 26, 2009 12:01 AM
Prison health-care receiver J. Clark Kelso has filed a notice to move a lawsuit filed against him over a proposed inmate medical center near Stockton to federal court in Sacramento.

The move drew criticism from local leaders as being “intellectually dishonest in the extreme.”

The Stockton Greater Chamber of Commerce, city of Stockton and San Joaquin County filed suit in the San Joaquin County Superior Court on Nov. 17 in an attempt to force millions of dollars in concessions from the state.

The federal receiver responded Wednesday.

Upon filing the notice, Kelso’s office said, the lawsuit’s removal to a federal court is automatic. Stockton and San Joaquin County leaders can challenge it in a motion, asking that the suit be returned to the Stockton courthouse.

Kelso said through a spokesman that it makes sense to try the suit in a federal court because a federal judge appointed him to bring the state’s lagging inmate medical care up to constitutional standards.

“I remain hopeful that the litigants will come to the table with reasonable requests during the settlement talks,” Kelso said in a written news release.

Kelso proposed a 1,734-bed California Health Care Facility, Stockton, which he says will create jobs and infuse millions of dollars into the county’s depressed economy.

Kelso and state prison officials are under orders from federal courts to fix California’s prison overcrowding and to improve inmate medical care. The federal judges threaten to release 40,000 prisoners if the state doesn’t find solutions.

State officials also announced early plans for a second 1,133-bed inmate medical center on state property southeast Stockton along with previous plans for a 500-bed prison reentry facility.

The lawsuit Stockton and county officials filed will stall plans, Kelso says.

“I had hoped we could avoid a delay in creating the thousands of jobs that this project will generate,” he said. “But since the Stockton litigants chose a different path, I have no alternative.”

Stockton attorney Steven Herum filed the lawsuit on behalf of local leaders against Kelso and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. He said it is wrong for one state entity being sued by another state entity to invoke a federal court.

“It is intellectually dishonest in the extreme and illustrates a profound lack of honor and decency,” Herum said.