California

Jail lawsuit against Monterey County, contractor advances

Attorney Michael Bien speaks to reporters before court hearing on future of state prisons at Robert T. Matsui Federal Court House on March 27, 2013 in Sacramento, Calif. Since realignment of inmates to county jails, Bien has filed suits against counties alleging inadequate health care and has taken particular issue with services provided by California Forensic Medical Group.
Attorney Michael Bien speaks to reporters before court hearing on future of state prisons at Robert T. Matsui Federal Court House on March 27, 2013 in Sacramento, Calif. Since realignment of inmates to county jails, Bien has filed suits against counties alleging inadequate health care and has taken particular issue with services provided by California Forensic Medical Group. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

A federal judge has certified Monterey County inmates as a class in a lawsuit against a private correctional health company that provides care in 27 counties, including three in the capital region.

“Going from a lawsuit representing individuals to a lawsuit representing a class is a major step in any litigation,” said attorney Michael Bien, whose Bay Area law firm filed the lawsuit with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Monterey County public defender.

The plaintiffs are suing Monterey County and California Forensic Medical Group over the quality of medical and mental health care provided in the Salinas jail. The Sacramento Bee published an investigation of CFMG this month that showed the company has faced allegations of substandard care in many of the counties where it has contracts and has a higher rate of certain types of deaths than correctional health operations in other counties.

CFMG’s attorney, Pete Bertling, said the judge’s ruling was expected and doesn’t change the company’s position.

“Our position has been that even if class certification is granted it wouldn’t change our position,” he said. “CFMG, in all the counties where it provides services, meets or exceeds constitutional standards for care.”

In his order filed Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Grewal found that “all adult men and women who are now, or will be in the future, incarcerated at the Monterey County jail” have standing in the lawsuit.

In his 50-page ruling, Grewal considered the evidence presented in the case since it was filed in 2013. Bien said the case is somewhat unique in that the plaintiffs and the defendants agreed to the selection of neutral experts to review medical, mental health and disability access issues at the jail. All of the experts found significant problems.

Bien and another attorney, Donald Specter of Prison Law Office, have been filing lawsuits against county correctional health operations since 2011 when the state gave counties lower level inmates once held in prison. The switch was made because of lawsuits, also handled by Specter and Bien, against the state’s correctional health operations.

Specter has filed similar actions against Fresno and Riverside counties. Bien recently joined a class action lawsuit against Yuba County. Bien and Specter have said they are regularly considering actions against other county correctional health operations.

In the Sacramento region, CFMG has contracts to provide jail health care in El Dorado, Placer and Yolo counties.

Call The Bee’s Brad Branan, (916) 321-1065. Follow him on Twitter @BradB_at_SacBee.

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