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Four more weeks, not three more years.

That's the bottom line in a terse order issued Tuesday afternoon by a trio of federal judges who believe Gov. Jerry Brown and state officials can -- and must -- do more to reduce the size of the state's prison population.

But the order, a response to Brown's recent request to push the Dec. 31 deadline to 2016 and allow newly ratified legislation to kick in, is clearly more an interim step than an outright rejection of the request... an insistence that the state needs to consider more options before asking for a lengthy new chapter in the fight over the impact on prisoner medical care from facilities overstocked with felons.

The ruling (PDF) enlists the help of a state appeals court justice to act as a mediator of sorts between the Brown administration and the attorneys representing the inmates who filed the original two lawsuits in this long running saga.

That jurist, Justice Peter Siggins, is no stranger to this case. Before taking the bench, Siggins served as the top legal adviser to former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and before that, the chief deputy attorney general.

The federal judge panel has given both sides until Oct. 21 to meet privately with Siggins and hash out some more ideas. And they offered some specific places the state should look:

"The discussions shall specifically include: (a) three strikers; (b) juveniles; (c) the elderly and the medically infirm; (d) Immigration and Customs Enforcement prisoners; (e) the implementation of the Low Risk List; and (f) any other means, including relocation within the state, that are included in defendants' May 2, 2013 list."

Those specifics were specifically mentioned by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, in a 'friend of the court' filing he made on Monday. They are also a pretty clear sign that the federal judges involved in the case continue to think there's more that can be done to shrink the prison population, even as state officials earlier insisted the only way to get the inmate ranks down to about 112,000 by year's end is to ship as many as 8,000 prisoners to out-of-state or local lockups.

Meantime, the governor continues to seek help from the U.S. Supreme Court, filing another request with the justices late Tuesday afternoon to stop the lower court federal judges from forcing the state's hand.

NOTE: This post was updated at 6:03 p.m. to reflect the letter from Senate leader Steinberg sent to the judges on Monday.

John Myers is News10's political editor. Check out his Twitter feed on California politics, his Facebook page, and the weekly News10 Capitol Connection politics podcast.

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