Sunday, March 15, 2009

What's the Big Deal? Federal Receiver or Special Master?

As discussed in the previous post, the Governor has filed a motion asking Judge Henderson to replace the Federal Receiver, Clark Kelso, with a "Special Master." What's the difference? Is it really that big a deal? Well, yes it is.

Here's a helpful and concise explanation of the difference between the two from the Legislative Analyst's Office:

"A Receiver, such as the one appointed by the court in the Plata case, differs from special masters that have been approved in other legal cases affecting the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). A Receiver has direct executive authority, and acts in place of the Secretary of CDCR in regard to the management of the medical care system. We are aware of only a few federal court rulings involving prison systems that have involved the appointment of a receiver. They include a 1979 federal court order that made the Governor of Alabama the receiver of that state’s prison system and the 1995 federal court appointment of a receiver for the Washington DC jails. Special masters, such as the one appointed in a separate legal case known as Coleman v. Schwarzenegger involving improvements in inmate mental health care, are a more common remedy in such cases. Special masters monitor the compliance activities of other parties (in this case, CDCR). They lack, however, direct executive authority and must rely on the federal courts to order changes when they discover problems in compliance with court orders."

The excerpt makes clear what an unusual and extraordinary remedy the appointment of a Federal Receiver represents. But of course, sometimes extraordinary problems demand extraordinary remedies.....

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