March 2000 Fed Court

Friday, March 31, 2000
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Judge orders inmate treated State denied hepatitis C drug to man


The Courier-Journal

A federal judge has ordered the Kentucky Department of Corrections to give medical treatment to a prisoner with life-threatening hepatitis C. U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II said yesterday that he agreed with federal Magistrate Judge C. Cleveland Gambill, who recommended in January that Heyburn require the Corrections Department to treat inmate Michael Paulley.

Paulley’s doctor, Bennet Cecil, has said that without treatment, he has only a 50-50 chance of living until 2004, when he is eligible for parole. The Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, “guarantees a prisoner that prison officials will not ignore his serious medical problems,” Heyburn wrote.

Paulley is an Army veteran, and the $18,000-a-year drug treatment that Cecil recommends would cost the Corrections Department nothing because Paulley’s veteran’s benefits would pay for it.

Paulley is serving a 20-year sentence at the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex near -La Grange for burglary and being a persistent felon. He sued the Corrections Department in August to force it to give him treatment. He also seeks unspecified damages for the violation of his constitutional rights. That part of the lawsuit has yet to be resolved.

The Corrections Department claimed Paulley shouldn’t get the drug treatment because he has cirrhosis of the liver and the side effects could do him more harm than good. Heyburn, however, said he agreed with Gambill, who found in January that the Corrections Department’s real motive for denying Paulley treatment was to avoid having to pay to treat other prisoners with hepatitis C. The Corrections Department should take “all steps necessary” to allow Cecil to treat Paulley, Heyburn wrote. He did not set a date.

Alan S. Rubin, one of Paulley’s lawyers, said he hopes the Corrections Department lets him begin treatment by the end of next week. But the Corrections Department might appeal, Rubin said.

A department spokesman could not be reached for comment late yesterday afternoon. Rubin wants Heyburn to certify the case as a class action on behalf of all Kentucky prisoners who have hepatitis C but were denied treatment since December 1998, when the treatment was approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Heyburn wrote yesterday that he would decide that issue later.