SACRAMENTO — Gov. Schwarzenegger's office has given itself a May 15 deadline to upgrade the state's lethal injection procedure, guaranteeing continuation of a moratorium on executions in California at least through the first half of 2007.
The target date was set forth Tuesday in court papers that also proposed a judicial order allowing the state to develop its new lethal injection protocol in secret.
Set for a hearing March 9 in San Jose federal court, the secrecy motion said, "There is no question the review of the lethal injection protocol will require frank debate and candid consideration of policy alternatives" by corrections officials, and that secrecy will protect the public from confusion.
The current protocol was declared unconstitutional a month ago by U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel of San Jose. He cited an undue risk that condemned inmates may be conscious when injected with highly painful chemicals.
Schwarzenegger said at the time that the protocol would be reformed in accordance with Fogel's ruling, which outlined a range of deficiencies in the training and supervision of execution staff and the death chamber environment. The governor's lawyers reiterated the commitment in the newly filed documents but also formally moved for a protective order to bar anyone, including lawyers who have been challenging the lethal injection procedures, from probing the reform process.
The state said in its secrecy motion that the opposition lawyers have attempted in the past to force disclosure of privileged "pre-decisional documents and statements."
Two of the opposition lawyers, Richard Steinken and John Grele, said that they'll oppose the secrecy request. Steinken noted that when former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush ordered a review of that state's lethal injection protocol last month he ordered the revision commission to meet in public.
Stephen Burns, legal counsel for The Sacramento Bee, said that The Bee, along with the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle, were "looking into the possibility of intervening to oppose the governor's motion." The three news organizations were involved in earlier proceedings about lethal injection to assure public access to information.