One of the state's landmark prison civil rights lawsuits has entered a new phase, with U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller taking over from retiring Senior Judge Lawrence K. Karlton, who has presided over the case for its entire history.
The federal class action, filed nearly 25 years ago in the Eastern District, has not only worked to reform the care of mentally ill inmates in California but also helped put into motion the state's radical effort to reduce its prison population. Coleman v. Brown, CV90-520 (E.D. Cal., filed April 23, 1990).
Mueller, who is hailed as a thoughtful and patient jurist, will lend some fresh air to the long-running case that must still oversee the implementation of state prison reforms agreed upon in recent years, legal observers said.
"Judge Karlton, I think, did a very good job, but he had all the twists and turns," said Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School criminal law professor. "Maybe she can get it on the right path."
It's not necessarily a surprise that Mueller is succeeding Karlton on the heavyweight case, experts say.
She was already appointed in April to replace Karlton on a three-judge panel partly created by Colemanplaintiffs that oversees the state's prison overcrowding. The panel, which also includes Senior U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson of the Northern District and 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt, ruled in 2009 that the state needed to reduce its prison population to 137.5 percent of capacity.
Part of it may simply be that Karlton and Mueller are neighbors in the courthouse, said Eastern District Chief Judge Morrison C. England Jr. It made transferring the massive amount of documents fromColeman an easier feat.
"She stepped up to the plate, and we're happy she did," England said.