Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Judge orders testimony in prison mental health lawsuit

By Steve Bousquet, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

Published Thursday, June 18, 2009

TALLAHASSEE — A state judge is ordering two prison officials to testify today on their role in a disputed decision to switch vendors for mental health care to inmates in South Florida.

"I direct that they appear," Leon County Circuit Judge Frank Sheffield said at a hearing Thursday.

The judge ordered the two employees, Millie Seay and Jimmy Smith, to testify in a lawsuit brought by a company that has been fired by the Department of Corrections.

The firm, MHM Correctional Services of Virginia, is seeking to block the state from replacing it with Correctional Medical Services of St. Louis, at what MHM says is $5 million more.

The lawsuit sheds light on the intense competition among firms to secure lucrative contracts with agencies in Gov. Charlie Crist's administration.

As the judge noted Thursday, "There's a lot of money at stake, and we have time frames imposed of July 1."

MHM attorney Christopher Kise accused the prison system of flagrant violations of state purchasing and open meeting laws, "a rigging of the process" and a waste of taxpayers' money in switching vendors.

He argued that MHM's lawsuit should stay, or prevent, the state from hiring CMS on July 1 for a 120-day period under a special purchase order while the vendor makes the transition as mental health provider.

Attorneys for CMS, which was allowed to intervene in the lawsuit Thursday, told the judge a fast decision is needed because the firm needs to start its work.

CMS attorney Peter Antonacci called the 120-day transition period a contractual "patch" not subject to the state's purchasing laws.

Seay is director of administration for the Department of Corrections, and Smith is assistant program administrator for health services.

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