Court Receiver Ups The Ante, Again

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Henry Hill: "You're a pistol, you're really funny. You're really funny."

Tommy DeVito: "What do you mean I'm funny? You mean, let me understand this cause, ya know maybe it's me... but I'm funny how?

I mean funny like I'm a clown? I amuse you? I make you laugh?"

The new federal court receiver for prison health care, Clark Kelso, has a reputation for a calm and reasoned demeanor. And yet, I can't get Joe Pesci's tough guy character from Goodfellas out of my mind.

This morning, Kelso filed documents with U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson again demonstrating his intentions to get the money he says is needed to bring California's prison health care up to constitutional standards.

Kelso's new filing adds Controller John Chiang to the state officers listed as defendants. The receiver also filed a request to begin a legal discovery process at Chiang's office to examine the state's bank accounts.

“The reason is simple," says Kelso's filing. "The State has declined to fund major capital projects the Receiver considers essential to fulfilling the charge given to him by this court. As a result, the Receiver may find it necessary to ask this court to order the Controller to draw warrants on the State Treasury to provide the Receiver with the necessary funds."

Today's action is just the latest ratcheting up of the pressure. Last month, Republicans in the state Senate refused to provide votes for a $7 billion bond proposal to improve prison health care.

Part of the problem, said Assembly GOP Leader Mike Villines, is the price tag. Villines, in comments to reporters on Wednesday, said the proposal is the equivalent of giving a mid-size city lavish health benefits.

"We have someone [Kelso] saying they need $7 billion for 180,000 population," Villines said. "It seems astronomical, and it doesn't seem well justified."

Goodfella Tommy DeVito wouldn't like that answer. And it seems doubtful Kelso or the federal courts will, either.

UPDATE [3:30pm] In a written statement, Controller Chiang paints a gloomy picture if the courts simply come in and pluck the money needed from the state's bank account: "If the Court does order the State to make payments as requested by the Receiver, we would be forced to tap transportation, victim’s compensation, mental health and other special funds earmarked by voters for specific purposes. Such action likely would invite protracted and costly litigation at taxpayer expense."

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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