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A Georgia state appellate panel has found DeKalb County, Ga., officials in contempt for “willfully” violating an agreement to correct abysmal health care conditions at the county jail. On Friday, barely a month after briefs were filed in the case, the three-judge panel upheld a contempt citation issued last November against the county by DeKalb Superior Court Judge Hilton M. Fuller Jr. The appellate ruling, written by Presiding Judge Edward C. Johnson, also found “no evidence” to support DeKalb County attorneys’ allegations that Fuller is biased against the county. Dorsey v. Adams, No. A02A1075 (Ct. App. Ga. May 3, 2002). Johnson was joined in the opinion by Chief Judge G. Alan Blackburn and Judge M. Yvette Miller. Last week’s ruling is the latest skirmish in a fight spanning more than three years to improve standards of health care at the DeKalb jail. That battle has been marked by multiple appeals, two contempt citations against the county, and two deaths at the jail that a court-appointed jail monitor has attributed to “poor care” and “poor oversight by the county.” Jail monitor Robert B. Greifinger, former chief medical officer of the New York Correctional Service, has repeatedly documented conditions that he says are a danger to inmates and the public health. He has called the jail a breeding ground for tuberculosis, sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS. The ruling upholds Fuller’s authority to impose sanctions on the county if it does not force its medical contractor to improve medical care immediately. DeKalb County Executive Assistant Richard Stogner said county officials “have not had a chance to review the opinion” and until they do so, “will have no comment.” DECISION’S SPEED CITED Inmates’ attorney Tamara H. Serwer of the Southern Center for Human Rights said Monday that the quick release of the appellate ruling “indicates the clarity with which the court of appeals sees the issues.” The appeal, she said, “was obviously a delay tactic” on the county’s part and “a waste of taxpayers’ money.” But Serwer said she fears county officials “will probably find a way to slow it down again.” She added, “I really hope, deep in my heart, that this is atrigger for DeKalb County and the sheriff to take the bull by the horns and do what they really have to do.” FIRST SUIT FILED BY INMATE A county jail inmate, acting as his own attorney, first filed the suit in 1998. At the time, the allegations of substandard care so troubled Fuller that heappointed an attorney to represent the inmates civilly. That attorney, Decatur sole practitioner Robert L. McGlasson III, subsequently filed a class action suit against then-DeKalb Sheriff Sidney Dorsey. The suit did not ask for damages. It asked only that medical conditions at the jail meet national standards for correctional care. County officials responded by hiring private firms to work with the county law department in fighting the suit. They also attempted to have Fuller removed from the case. Attorneys with the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta and solepractitioner Milton D. “Chip” Rowan subsequently began representing theinmates. The litigation has spanned two county administrations and two sheriffs. Lastyear — after Vernon A. Jones was elected county chief executive officer andThomas E. Brown was elected sheriff — the county signed a settlement agreement promising substantial improvement in jail medical care. Instead, bimonthly inspections by Greifinger found that medical conditions at the jail actually deteriorated. That deterioration in health care only halted after the county hired a new medical contractor last August. Last November, Fuller rejected arguments by DeKalb County Attorney Charles G.Hicks and his staff that enforcing the settlement was not the county’sresponsibility, but rather belonged solely to the sheriff. Any violation of the settlement should be placed squarely on the sheriff, Hicks said. Countyattorneys also argued that they had an 18-month window before they had tocomply with the settlement terms. At that time, Fuller held the county in civil and criminal contempt for violating the terms of the settlement agreement. However, he did not fine the county or threaten to jail county officials.Instead, he required the county to make its medical services provider,Corrections Medical Care Solutions, fulfill the terms of its $9.8 millioncontract. The county appealed. In the meantime, Brown, who was not held in contempt by the court, began inDecember assessing penalties averaging $45,000 to $50,000 a month against themedical services firm hired by the county commission. The sheriff, who did not negotiate the contract and whose signature is not on it, has said he has “done all I can do” to force the medical provider toperform as promised.) In his appellate ruling, Johnson wrote that assertions by county officials that they had met their obligations under the settlement agreement simply by hiring a private medical care provider was wrong. “[T]he county’s argument ignores the settlement agreement that it entered into, and the court order requiring the county to abide by the agreement,” Johnson wrote. “That agreement, which was signed by the DeKalb County Attorney as the county’s authorized representative, plainly provides: ‘DeKalb County shall be responsible for monitoring and enforcing compliance with all provisions of this settlement and release agreement and for insuring that adequate funding is appropriated. The county is responsible not only for funding medical care at the jail, but also for monitoring that care and ensuring that it meets the settlement terms.’”

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