On December 17, 2019, U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller in Sacramento issued an order in the Coleman v. Newsom case finding, after a three-day trial led by RBGG’s Lisa Ells, Cara Trapani, Jessica Winter, and Michael Bien, that chief prison psychiatrist Dr. Michael Golding’s whistleblower allegations were largely true and that California prison officials intentionally presented misleading data to the Court and the Special Master that tended to falsely inflate their level of compliance with court-ordered requirements for adequate psychiatric care. The order is here: Order re Findings from Golding Hearing + Staffing Remedies 12-17-19
According to a December 18 article in the Sacramento Bee, Federal judge backs whistleblower, blasts CA prisons on care of mentally ill inmates: “Mueller found that the state was so determined to get out from under years of court-ordered supervision of mental health care services that it fudged data on how frequently more than 32,000 mentally ill inmates were being seen by psychiatrists and the amount of care that was being provided.”
In the order Judge Mueller wrote: “In the final analysis, inexplicably, it is apparent defendants lost complete sight of the reasons remediation is required here. Defendants adopted a laser focus in an effort to obtain termination of court supervision, which led to a stark ‘ends justify the means’ approach. Their litigation tactics have wholly missed the significance of the constitutional rights of the thousands of mentally ill persons defendants have in their custody.”
Coleman v. Newsom is a class action lawsuit 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. Attorneys at RBGG led by Michael Bien have represented the prisoner class, which now includes more than 32,000 individuals, since the case was first filed. RBGG’s Lisa Ells led the firm’s trial team in the Golding matter.
In an article in the Daily Journal on December 19, Bien summed things up in this way: “We want to be in a position of trust. The litigation is in a remedial phase. We’ve already won the case. That was in 1995. Some of my employees weren’t born yet. We’re supposed to be in a position where we are not fighting about the facts anymore but working together on the solutions.”
RBGG’s Bien is also quoted extensively in the Bee article:
“Michael Bien, the lead attorney in the lawsuit known as the Coleman case that has been pending on behalf of the inmates since 1990 and has gone to the U.S. Supreme Court, said he hopes the judge will soon issue an order that CDCR file data with the court that is accurate and confirmed as such by department officials.
He also said he hopes the judge will allow the inmates’ lawyers greater access to information inside the department ‘so we can do a better job checking up on them.’
‘Part of the problem is public officials do not understand that Coleman is a lawsuit that the state has already lost,’ Bien said. ‘They’ve been found guilty of violating the Constitution and these court orders are being on them.’
Bien said that three years ago the judge gave corrections officials one year to come into compliance with staffing levels for mental health care, but noted that Mueller’s order says that ‘still today, however, psychiatrist staffing vacancies hover at the 30 percent mark.’
Just before Golding issued his whistleblower report, Bien and his team were preparing to come to an agreement with the state to accept a lower number of psychiatrists in the prisons based on information they were receiving from CDCR.
But that deal was blown apart by Golding’s allegations, and Bien said Wednesday the ‘loss of trust (with CDCR) is one of the most damaging parts of the Golding report.’
But, he added that he hopes Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration will be more receptive to working to improve care in the prisons.
‘They have a lot to do,’ Bien said. ‘It’s much further away than I thought it was.'”
“We have to get confidence in their data data and information. We have to get confidence that they have people in place that are going to tell the truth and be open about challenges so we can work together.”