Kelso's Pay As Prison Receiver Takes Odd Route

The Recorder

By Cheryl Miller

August 17, 2009

SACRAMENTO J. Clark Kelso has his hands full these days trying to
spiff up inmate medical care as the federal court-appointed prisons
receiver.

So why is he listed on the state Administrative Office of the Courts'
payroll as a consultant making $224,000 a year?

That's the question more than a few court watchers have been asking in
recent weeks as the AOC's spending habits have come under increased
scrutiny. Kelso's pricey payroll listing raised red flags, especially
among those who remember unfondly his past support for trial court
unification.

But Kelso insists there's no conspiracy afoot. As he explains it, his
payroll placement is more like an accounting maneuver designed to
avoid a conflict of interest. And it's not costing the courts a dime,
he said.

After Kelso was named prison medical care receiver in January 2008,
counsel warned him against taking a position directly with the state
Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, he said. The department,
a segment of which Kelso now ran independently, falls under the
authority of the executive branch.

"The governor would have had to appoint me," Kelso said. "That's more
than an appearance of a conflict. That's a problem."

Kelso's predecessor, Robert Sillen, had set up a nonprofit corporation
in San Jose. But Kelso wanted to dismantle it.

So the AOC made an accommodation, Kelso said and an AOC spokesman
confirmed, to place his job title under the courts' administrative
agency, which falls under the independent judicial branch. But Kelso's
salary and the rest of his receiver operation are still funded
entirely by the Department of Corrections.

"This is subject to an agreement with the federal court," he said.
"When I go away, it goes away. I don't do any work for the AOC."

Kelso, a professor at University of the Pacific's McGeorge School of
Law, said he understands the scrutiny of the judicial budget and the
politics that sometimes fuel it.

"I enjoy (the judiciary's) conflicts a lot more than I enjoy the
executive branch's conflicts," he said.