RBGG’s Michael Bien has once again been named by the Daily Journal as one of the Top 100 Lawyers in California. This is the sixth time that Michael has been named to the list. An article in the Daily Journal on September 19, 2018 highlights his role in the ground-breaking class action, Coleman v. Brown, brought on behalf of all California state prisoners with serious mental illness. The case challenges inadequate mental health care systems that place prisoners at serious risk of death, injury and prolonged suffering. After a full trial in 1995, the federal court issued an injunction requiring major changes in the prison mental health system.
Michael has led the RBGG team monitoring the State’s compliance with the order since that time. He is quoted in the DJ as saying “You can’t just leave a case when you get a ruling that the practice you’re challenging is unlawful. That’s just the beginning of the hard part, which is helping the institution change its culture and practices. It has to be a carrot and stick kind of approach you can’t force people to change their culture.”
In the 12 years after the original 1995 ruling and injunction, the skyrocketing inmate population overwhelmed the mental health and medical care systems in California’s state prisons. In 2007, plaintiffs’ counsel moved for orders capping the state prison population. A special three-judge court issued a population cap order in 2009, which the United States Supreme Court affirmed in 2011. In 2013, the state moved to terminate all relief. After full discovery and briefing, the trial court denied the motion to terminate. The court then held new trials in 2013 on key obstacles to bringing the mental health system into compliance, including inadequate access to inpatient psychiatric care, over-reliance on segregation (solitary confinement), and inadequate protections against use-of-force. The court ordered new changes to the mental health system to address use-of-force and segregation.
Since 2015, the court has focused on bringing the case to a conclusion by fixing long-term shortages in mental health staffing, and lack of access to crisis units for persons in life-threatening mental health crises. After new evidentiary hearings in 2017, the court has issued a series of orders to address these problems.