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Judge hears lawsuit on prison health care privatization

Alma Gonzalez and Tom Brooks, attorneys for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, discuss the prison health care case after Monday's hearing. Photo by Bill Cotterell.

An admittedly puzzled circuit judge heard lawyers for the Florida prison system, for a health care contractor and for state-employee unions argue for two hours Monday over a high-stakes move to privatize medical services in state prisons.

Judge John Cooper promised a prompt ruling, asking all sides to file legal summations by Nov. 28, but gave no indication when he might decide whether the Department of Corrections and Legislature acted properly in taking bids for inmate treatment. The tangled issues involve constitutional separation of powers, how much power the joint Legislative Budget Commission has in shifting money around between sessions and whether a separate statute allows the Department of Corrections to contract only with cities, counties and nonprofit organizations for such services -- not big corporations.

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