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Although a Contra Costa County judge says sexual predator Cary Verse can go free, Verse will have to sit tight at Atascadero State Hospital until the Department of Mental Health sets up housing, treatment and support programs. That’s essentially the outcome of Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge John Minney’s ruling at a Friday hearing about who should coordinate support services for Verse. After the 32-year-old sex offender served more than six years in prison, he was civilly committed to the maximum-security hospital for about five years under the state’s Sexually Violent Predator law. Verse and a Santa Clara County offender will be among the first ever to “graduate” from custody under the 7-year-old law. Although Minney ordered Verse’s release in January, he has stayed locked up, in part, because the county refused to administer the predator program, and the state Department of Mental Health has struggled to find a replacement. Such delays have been a concern of the defense bar, which has argued that the law posed civil liberty questions because it allows some defendants to remain locked up in a hospital long after they have done their time. The state’s inability to set up a network of services and housing has helped delay the release of Verse and Brian DeVries, a Santa Clara County child molester. Verse’s lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Ronald Boyer, wanted Minney to force Contra Costa to provide the services. He argued that its local “program director” is designated by statute. “There is nothing in this statute that makes it any different from any other statute creating public offices,” Boyer said in court Friday. The county’s duties are similar to the ones that the law assigns to the sheriff’s office and the public defender, he added. The state, represented by the California attorney general’s office, argued that the statute did not bar it from designating an alternate provider. Lawyers for both the state and county warned that if Minney forced Contra Costa to provide the service, it and dozens of other counties would stop providing existing conditional release program services (CONREP) altogether, which would jeopardize care for 700 people. “We can’t have a county employee administer a program that the county does not want to do,” said Deputy County Counsel Linda Wilcox. “That does not make sense.” Minney initially grilled Deputy Attorney General Susan King and Wilcox about what would happen if he forced the county to administer Verse’s program. Ultimately, he decided that the county wasn’t legally bound to run the program. “It appears to me a reasonable reading of the statute . . . would allow the department to have more than one director,” Minney said. He ordered the state Department of Mental Health to give him a progress report March 28. In an interview, defense attorney Boyer said that the law only gives the state 21 days to set up a program for patients once a judge orders release. More than 40 days have elapsed since Minney ordered Verse released. Boyer said that he has not decided whether to appeal Minney’s decision. “We have to accept that [the state is acting] in good faith until we are informed otherwise,” he said.

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