A California inmate who is seeking sex reassignment surgery at taxpayers' expense faces an awful irony: If she wins freedom from a parole board, she would no longer be eligible for the prison-funded operation she says is crucial to her emotional health.

State officials say 51-year-old Michelle-Lael Norsworthy has postponed her parole hearing several times with the hope of having the surgery.

They are citing the delays as they appeal a judge's order that she undergo the procedure as soon as possible.

Norsworthy is set for a parole hearing Thursday after four delays in six months. Her surgery is set for July 1.

Her attorneys say she was not responsible for the hearing delays and, if released, she would be eligible for the surgery under Medi-Cal.

Norsworthy has been in prison since 1987 for second-degree murder.