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Expert Witness Testifies to Inadequate Health Service During Jail Lawsuit

Monterey County, California is embroiled in a legal dispute over the condition of its prison systems with plaintiffs alleging that prison conditions and mental health treatment services are well below levels required by federal law.  Last week, a federal judge heard expert witness testimony that argued the inmates filing the lawsuit against Monterey County Jail suffered from substandard conditions that warranted a class-action claim against the prison system.

Monterey County Jail Inmates Sue Prison

The legal troubles for Monterey County Jail and its health contractor California Forensic Medical Group (CFMG) started in May of 2013 when five inmates filed a lawsuit due to allegedly unsafe and poor conditions of their confinement.  Over the last year, the number of inmates joining the lawsuit has risen to 21, and attorneys representing them have joined with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to request the lawsuit become a class-action on behalf of all current and future inmates.

In a 30-page complaint, attorneys for the aggrieved inmates claimed that Monterey County Jail and CFMG failed to provide adequate inmate medical and mental health care, and that conditions in the prison are not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Inmates complain of overcrowding and inadequate facilities to handle the prison population’s mental and physical health needs.  To support their legal position that conditions in Monterey County Jail warranted a class-action lawsuit, plaintiffs presented a report by Dr. Mike Puisis, a medical doctor who criticized the Monterey Jail health facilities.

Medical Expert Witness Critical of Monterey Jail

As part of his expert witness report, Dr. Puisis examined medical records of 29 inmates at Monterey County Jail, none of whom were plaintiffs to the litigation.  Dr. Puisis, who was agreed upon as one of four neutral experts by both parties in the early stages of the litigation, presented expert analysis of the medical history of each inmate, and argued that Monterey County Jail committed “egregious missteps” that could result in a harmful situation if not corrected.  In Dr. Puisis’ expert opinion, Monterey County Jail and CFMG fail to provide the most basic level of medical health services as required by law, and inmates in the prison system are in danger of having inadequate care.

Michael Freeman, an attorney for the plaintiffs, reinforced the need for a class-action lawsuit citing Dr. Puisis’ testimony, saying, “This is not a theoretical case, this is not a made up case, these are not inmates seeking luxuries for the jail. This is about serious failings in the medical and mental health care system there and the consequences of people being seriously injured, including death.”  Defense attorneys, however, disagreed and argued that Dr. Puisis’ expert testimony was developed to push an agenda rather than provide relevant evidence in the lawsuit against Monterey County Jail.

Defense Attorneys Object to Prisoner’s Expert Witness

Attorneys representing Monterey County Jail and CFMG objected to the use of Dr. Puisis’ expert witness report because of the way in which he gathered his data and articulated his opinions.  At primary issue were the medical records of the 29 non-plaintiff inmates that Dr. Puisis relied on in generating his report.  Defense attorney Peter Bertling argued the report was filled with factual errors, but in order for the defense to attack those errors it would need access to confidential patient personal health information that would prejudice CFMG.

Pointing to inconsistencies between Dr. Puisis’ report and a report by Dr. Robert Cohen, another expert cited by the plaintiffs, Bertling also found Puisis’ expert opinion unconvincing, saying, “Dr. Puisis is effectively interjecting his personal preferences as the governing framework for correctional medicine in lieu of Title 15. He entirely disregarded this assignment and seized the opportunity to impose a personal agenda with his review.”  Arguing that Dr. Puisis’ expert report not only inappropriately relied on confidential health records, but was also not relevant to the case, Bertling and the Monterey County defense team requested Judge Paul Sing Grewal exclude Puisis’ testimony from the trial.

Judge Grewal will make a ruling on the admissibility of Dr. Puisis’ expert witness testimony and whether or not to grant the plaintiffs’ request for a class-action sometime in the next week.