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The California attorney general is stepping into a fight between Contra Costa County’s social service agency and its public defender’s office over which one should provide treatment for a sexually violent predator once he is released from a state hospital. The issue is the latest twist in the saga of Cary Verse, one of the first convicts to “graduate” into a supervised community release program. The issue, which will be heard Friday by Contra Costa Superior Court Judge John Minney, could influence the fate of another sex offender who awaits release in Santa Clara County. Under California’s 1996 Sexually Violent Predator law, a convict with a history of sexual violence can be civilly committed to a state hospital after serving a prison term if a judge or jury determines that the offender is a predator. Every two years, a hearing is held to determine whether the patient should remain in the treatment facility or be released. The impending freedom of Verse and of Santa Clara County defendant Brian DeVries has raised thorny political and civil liberties issues, including who should treat the men after they are freed. According to the law, the same professionals who run the conditional release program (CONREP) for mental patients oversee sex offenders. However, court papers filed by Deputy Attorney General Susan King, who represents the state Department of Mental Health, show that the designated local agencies don’t want to supervise the predator program. “Most county CONREP providers ‘opted out’ of providing services for SVPs [sexually violent predators]. Some counties threatened to withdraw their services to other categories of persons if they were forced to supervise the SVP population, which could have jeopardized over 700 patients who were already receiving services,” King wrote. The California Department of Mental Health is negotiating with a provider who would make available that service to both the Contra Costa and Santa Clara defendants, said Nora Romero, a spokeswoman for the department. The state has also struggled to find housing for Verse and DeVries. The statute gives the state 21 days after the release order to set up housing and other support programs unless there is “good cause” for delay, said Romero. The state’s current predicament meets that standard, she said. Verse’s release has already been delayed once so that the Department of Mental Health could set up monitoring and other programs for him, said prosecutor Brian Haynes. He expects that the state’s difficulties in setting up those programs may push back Verse’s estimated release date, May 7, “two or three” more times. “We are not doing it purposely,” Romero said, adding that two early candidates to oversee the release program backed out. “We have been looking.” However, Verse’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Ron Boyer, counters that the statute specifies that existing community release programs should execute the program. “The legislature placed these duties on the ‘community program director’ by statute, and counsel is unaware of the statute that confers . . . discretion to ‘opt out’ of that duty,” Boyer wrote in court papers. In an interview, Boyer declined to speculate on what was causing the flap over the release programs. Both Boyer and DeVries’ public defender attorney, Brian Matthews, have said many factors — including the state’s financial woes — may have prevented the state from setting up a post-release treatment. “Yes, I think that they should have their ducks in a row by now,” Boyer said. “But it’s a case of who, not when.” However, Matthews, the Santa Clara County public defender, wonders if the delays are deliberate. His client’s earliest possible release date is March 17. “I cannot say for sure, but I think that there is a political issue,” Matthews said. The defense bar has questioned the predator law because it allows prosecutors to keep defendants locked up long after they have served their sentences. And the release of Verse and DeVries could be delayed if there is no suitable treatment program in place when their last days behind bars roll around. Matthews points out that the Department of Mental Health has known for more than a year that his client was scheduled for release — and also that county mental health programs didn’t want to monitor the sexually violent predators. “I don’t think that they thought that any of these guys would get out,” he said. Verse was sent to maximum-security Atascadero State Hospital in 1999 after he served nearly seven years in prison for assaulting a man in a homeless shelter. Haynes and state mental health officials unsuccessfully argued to keep the 32-year-old — who is chemically castrated — locked up. However, Minney sided with Boyer and in January granted Verse’s request for release. While Contra Costa officials oppose Verse’s release, there was less opposition in Santa Clara to letting DeVries out. DeVries, who has admitted that he molested 50 children, was ordered released by Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Robert Baines in February. King, the deputy attorney general, points out that, although the predator law is several years old, the courts are dealing with uncharted territory. “I don’t think this issue has been brought up before,” King said.

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