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Federal cases for Fresno County inmates suspended amid flu outbreak

Federal criminal proceedings have been suspended in Fresno because of an outbreak of the flu at the county jail, where hundreds of inmates have been quarantined.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill issued the order Tuesday afternoon "in order to assure the health and safety" of judges, court staff, attorneys and the public, the Fresno Bee reported.

The Fresno County Sheriff's Office has been using lockdown procedures, preventing inmate movement "unless absolutely necessary" in an effort to keep the spread of the H1N1 flu virus from spreading, according to a media alert.

A 60-year-old inmate who was diagnosed with the H1N1 flu died after he was taken to a hospital  Monday. Inmates in the specific housing area are being assessed daily, and immunizations are being offered to both inmates and jail staff as soon as possible, according to the sheriff's office.

In the meantime, Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims told the Bee she considered the court order a "wise decision and precaution to take," noting there was more than 2,900 inmates in the jail as of Tuesday night.

The judge's order is not expected to have a large impact on the flow of federal criminal cases, because inmates from Kern County, which isn't affected by the suspension, can still be brought up for hearings.

Mims' spokesman, Chris Curtice, told the Fresno Bee three inmates have been diagnosed with H1N1 influenza, and nine others that have exhibited flu-like symptoms are in an isolation ward. In the central San Joaquin Valley, at least 10 patients have died of the flu this season -- four of them in Fresno County.

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jason.wells@latimes.com

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