Government Spending

California's Highest-Paid State Employee Is a Doctor No One Trusts to Treat Patients


I had atypically nice things to say about my former employer, the L.A. Times, in a recent book review. Partly because of stories like this, from today:

The highest-paid state employee in California last year, a prison surgeon who took home $777,423, has a history of mental illness, was fired once for alleged incompetence and has not been allowed to treat an inmate for six years because medical supervisors don't trust his clinical skills.

Since July 2005, Dr. Jeffrey Rohlfing has mostly been locked out of his job — on paid leave or fired or fighting his termination — at High Desert State Prison in Susanville, state records show. When he has been allowed inside the facility, he has been relegated to reviewing paper medical histories, what prison doctors call "mailroom" duty.

Rohlfing's $235,740 base pay, typical in California's corrections system, accounted for about a third of his income last year. The rest of the money was back pay for more than two years when he did no work for the state while appealing his termination. A supervisor had determined that Rohlfing provided substandard care for two patients, according to state Personnel Board records.

Rohlfing won that case before the board and was rehired and assigned to "mailroom" work in late 2009.

"We want taxpayers to know we had no choice in this," said Nancy Kincaid, spokeswoman for the court-appointed receiver in charge of California's inmate healthcare.

Want to begin addressing state budget woes? Heck, do you want to stop the incessant reminders by publications such as the one you're reading that public-sector compensation does not pass the rationality test? Then fix the system that produces this.

Link via the Twitter feed of Charles Ornstein. Steven Greenhut's classic Reason piece on California public sector employees here.

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  1. I demand alt-text!

  2. Can we drink at demands for alt-text?

    1. Less asking, more drinking

    2. You need a reason to drink?


      1. Look at his handle. He probably doesn’t need to drink, even at 8:13 ET.

  3. The system works! If you fail at getting away with crime, shouldn’t you get a doctor who fails at practicing medicine?

  4. C’mon Lefties! Time to tell us why Cali taxpayers should be delighted to pay higher taxes so that this dipstick can be paid $235K a year to shuffle papers.

    1. We’ll pay any price to keep the underclass far away from Fisherman’s Wharf.

      1. There’s a public housing project a couple blocks away – apparently they’re not paying enough.

        1. From what I understand, actual San Franciscans rarely go anywhere near Fisherman’s Wharf. I could be wrong though.

    2. Seriously, what’s the problem here? He has an advanced degree, which is all the qualification anyone needs to acquire and retain a high paying government job for life.

  5. Put the lime in the coconut and drink it all down.

  6. It’s pretty messed up, but the 777 figure is because he got three years of salary in the latest year because he won his appeal that kept him from working for the previous two.

    The central thing here is there is likely a contract which does not allow him to be fired without a showing of certain cause, and that has not been met. Contracts can be a bitch like that. Look at the Ovitz debacle with Disney that cost them waaaay more money, it was a contract that forced them to put up with and then buy off Ovitz.

    1. I thought the 777 was your mom’s chmod.

      1. The wit with this one! Brings back fond memories of middle school it does.

        1. You were running chmod in middle school? I assumed you were older than that…

    2. Think about it, they don’t think this guy is qualified to give Charles Manson an aspirin-but they can’t fire him. Time to re-negotiate those contracts.

      1. The problem is that if you get rid of systems that require cause to be shown you get systems that give power to administrators that are also state employees to hire and fire at whim. That can produce some pretty terribe cases too.

        1. Of course, prison systems don’t exactly attract the finest professionals.

          1. …so they probably tried to offer sweet deals just to get people in the door.

          2. Tru dat. The clientele is only a little better than that for Wal-Mart.

          3. prison systems don’t exactly attract the finest professionals.

            Wrong. Prison systems pay full credits for medical services – they could actually save quite a bit of money if they negotiated – but they don’t.

        2. The problem is that if you get rid of systems that require cause to be shown you get systems that give power to administrators that are also state employees to hire and fire at whim.

          You mean, the way it used to be back when the state governments were leveraged at a 1:1 ratio?

    3. The difference being that the private sector has largely learned from their mistakes in the area of employment contracts. The government has no intention of doing so.

      1. What are you talking about? Things like the Ovitz debacle (which was not ancient history) are not uncommon.

        1. What’s common, however, is the conflation of costs to Disney (and their shareholders) with costs to taxpayers.

          Disney (not exactly the most spendthrift of companies) can go out of business if it continues to make these mistakes.

          Gubmint – well, we’ll see.

    4. Shouldn’t we be able to go to Sacramento tomorrow and fire people who write and sign such contracts…or put them in a gibbet, maybe.

  7. At least he won’t show up in the unemployment statistics.

    1. It’s a job saved!

  8. fix the system that produces this.


    We just* make them “at will” employees.

    *I crack myself up.

  9. ” make them “at will” employees”

    Power to the police chiefs, wardens and school principals!

    What could go wrong?

    1. Well, at the very least, the school principals might learn to not be assholes, b/c they want to attract the best teachers possible.

      But that would require a slightly different school “system”.

    2. What could go wrong?

      Dunno, but I’m willing to find out if it would be worse than what we have now.

      Don’t let the terrible be the enemy of the bad, MNG.

    3. You mean like the community not putting up with police cheifs, wardens and principals for firing competent people at will? Or getting fired by their boss for that?

      You are admitting that government leaders can not be trusted so that everything they do has to be dictated by contract.

    4. lol.. but..

      I guess its better 10 useless paper-pushers at $200k each stay employed than 1 innocent be fired.

  10. if you get rid of systems that require cause to be shown you get systems that give power to administrators that are also state employees to hire and fire at whim.


  11. He only has the power you give him.

  12. What the fuck makes you believe these people are “owed” lifetime employment?

    1. This is exactly soviet communism.

  13. That’s true, and I’m already worn out from re-reading the tag team Fearless Fosdick comments.

  14. Huh? Rick Neuheisel makes $1.25 million per year, which, last I checked, was more than $777K. Ben Howland and Jeff Tedford make even more.

  15. Then fix the system that produces this.

    How the fuck am I supposed to do that?

    The fucked up electorate in this state would elect Charly Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer and Ugo Chavez is they had Ds after their name.

    1. ^ This. Though I would lay the blame less on the “fucked up electorate” and more on fucked up elections – especially the grip on power that Party 1 and Party 2 have helped each maintain over the last century or so.

  16. “We want taxpayers to know we had no choice in this,” said Nancy Kincaid, spokeswoman for the court-appointed receiver in charge of California’s inmate healthcare.

    Um, actually not, Nancy. You could credibly claim this if Rohlfing was an isolated case. Come talk to us when you aren’t paying hundreds of other medical professionals similar money.

  17. Then fix the system that produces this.

    Allright Matt, props to the LA Times for basic coverage, but they didn’t finish the job. Who is on this Personnel Board? What did they have to say for themselves? What rules/contracts bind them? Who wrote those rules? All this could have been in one paragraph at the end.

    Often public officials make chicken-shit decisions because they don’t think anyone’s watching. Sometimes all it takes for the system to work is for a journalist to do a good job.

  18. Aren’t the head coaches of UCLA’s sports teams state employees? I have a hard time believing none of them make more than this doctor.

    1. Sports teams also sell quite a bit of merchandise, along with garnering huge donations from Alumni.

      From here: “the UCLA Athletic Department is self-sufficient: public moneys don’t pay for the athletic program.”

      1. That doesn’t mean they’re not state employees. Even if you earn for your company as much (if not more) than you make for them (or, in this case, the state), you still get your paychecks from the company with one of the officer’s signatures on it. Hence, employee.

  19. If anyone knows of any other highly paid state employees working in prison mailrooms, please email me at I can’t believe how many bureaucrats including Jerry Brown are pretending that they didn’t know about this situation with Dr. Rohlfing. Here he is collecting all that money and he put his wife out on the street, refusing to settle with her, abused her and the state employees knew the situation and did nothing. Jerry Brown holds no one accountable for abusing the prisoners. We need a governor who isn’t owned by the CCPOA, please join the campaign Liberals To Recall Jerry Brown,

  20. @Cayenne Bird: I did not see the part about abusing his wife and putting her out in the street in the article. Wassup with that? Making crap up?

  21. I drove Kristi Rohlfing, reportedly this doctor’s wife back to Fresno from a Sacramento Rally a couple of years ago. She said she tried to report his actions to prison officials, and all she got was retaliation. I dropped her off at a house in Fresno where she said she was staying with some relatives. If this is the same doctor you should talk to his x-wife her stories would really curl your hair, and the prison officials knew it, and supported his actions.

    Robert Sillen the first Federal Receiver appointed by Judge Thelton E. Henderson in San Francisco told me, standing outside the Federal Court House, “at least half the prison doctors should be in prison”. Call Robert Sillen for more details. He tried to fire many of the prison docs. and got stopped by the prison officials.

  22. I did a combat first aid course in the army. Maybe I could get a job there.

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