Posts Tagged ‘prisoners’

Streamlined Procedures Act of 2005

With excited editorials in the New York Times and Washington Post announcing that a bill before the Senate Judiciary Committee will “gut the legal means by which prisoners prove their innocence,” it’s worth asking the following trivia question:

Q. Under the Streamlined Procedures Act of 2005, what is the minimum number of levels of judicial review a criminal defendant sentenced to death will have?

Read On…

U.K. roundup

Meals-on-wheels officials in Gloucestershire were preparing to distribute to elderly clients paper napkins printed with tips on how to avoid being a crime victim, but paused the initiative after being warned that no safety assessment had been made of the possible choking hazard should pensioners insert the napkins into their mouths; the distribution eventually went forward, but critics said the episode encouraged the portrayal of aged persons as senile (Martin Wainwright, “No napkins … elderly might eat them”, The Guardian, Apr. 13). The Royal Chesterfield hospital is locked in a longstanding battle with claims-chasers who prowl its accident and emergency facilities promoting no-win, no-fee legal practices. Said a spokesman: “They have been approaching patients, asking them how they came about their injuries, was it their fault and if they want to sue. We have had several complaints from patients. These people are also handing out official-looking leaflets with an NHS-type logo which makes it look as if the hospital is endorsing their actions.” (Nick Britten, “Hospital lawyers target ‘ambulance chasers'”, Daily Telegraph, Apr. 14). Until recently a number of Scottish prisons provided inmates with chamberpots rather than in-cell toilets for overnight use; the practice has now been ruled a human rights violation and taxpayers are on the hook for compensation claims that some see rising as high as £100 million. (Hamish MacDonell and John Robertson, “Slopping-out prisoners ‘to sue for £100m'”, The Scotsman, Feb. 11; Kirsty Scott, “Slopping out judged a breach of human rights”, The Guardian, Apr. 27, 2004). And the newsletter of the Association of Lloyd’s Members, serving participants in the venerable London insurance market, will be reprinting with credit occasional items from this website (after having asked our permission, which we were happy to grant).

Batch of reader letters

We’ve posted four more reader letters from our alarmingly backed-up pipeline, at our letters page. Among topics this time: Manhattan attorney Ravi Batra invites us to take a closer look at his lawsuit against the TV program “Law and Order”; can Texas exercise jurisdiction over out-of-state class action lawyers’ representation of Texas class members?; freeing innocent prisoners, and the other kind; and the continuum of disabilities.

“Grandparents sue over jailhouse baby”

Knoxville, Ga.: “The grandparents of a child conceived while her parents were both in the Crawford County Jail want the county to help them support the baby. LaTonya Finney and boyfriend, Adrian Howard, were jailed in 2002 to await trial on robbery charges. While they remained behind bars, Finney became pregnant.” Finney’s parents now say that because their daughter was impregnated while in prison, “Crawford County Sheriff Kerry Dunaway shares some of the responsibility — and the cost — while the tot’s parents are both serving prison terms.” The couple say the sheriff granted them a conjugal visit, but he says the man picked a lock and gained access to the women’s portion of the prison to see his girlfriend.

“‘I just think it’s a very, very bizarre social conscience these people have that their daughter conceives a child and they think the sheriff is responsible,’ said county attorney David Mincey Jr. The sheriff said he wasn’t even aware of Finney’s pregnancy until Howard filed suit demanding to be released from prison to care for Adrianna. That case is still pending.” (AP/CNN, Aug. 2).

Prison builders sued after serial killer’s suicide

“The mother of accused serial killer Maury Travis, whose bizarre hanging death in the St. Louis County Justice Center was ruled a suicide, filed a suit Friday against the county, the architects who designed the jail and the contractors who built it.” Authorities believe Travis committed as many as twenty murders; he hanged himself in his prison cell after leaving a note. (Peter Shinkle, “Mother of accused serial killer sues over death in jail”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 15)(via Brian Noggle)(& letter to the editor, Jun. 22).

Oz: prisoner takes drug overdose, sues

Australia: 28-year-old James Samuel Steward, who “was serving a three-year sentence at Goulburn jail when he overdosed on illegally acquired methadone in May 1998”, is now “suing the state for more than $4 million. … His barrister, Barry Hall, QC, … argued that among the department’s breaches of duty of care was its failure to adequately manage the jail to prevent the entry of illegal drugs.” (Leonie Lamont, “Ex-prisoner sues over drug disablement”, Sydney Morning Herald, May 11). For a case in which a woman sued an American hospital for not preventing the smuggling of the illegal drugs on which she overdosed, see Jun. 27, 2003.

Prisoners escaping jail? Sue the plumber

Cameron County’s revenues apparently depend heavily on its warehousing of federal prisoners in its jail. But the U.S. Marshals pulled federal prisoners after a series of escapes. So Cameron County is suing the builder of the jail, and all of the contractors and subcontractors–including the plumber, who noone blames. Jo Rae Wagner, the president of the plumbing company, speaks out; such “shotgun” listing of plainly innocent defendants is common. The newspaper gets counterbalance from two law professors who assure readers that such defendants don’t have to pay anything to be dismissed from the suit, but apparently haven’t actually tried to get such a defendant out of a suit without incurring legal expenses or tried to recover legal fees for the frivolous suit. (Allan Essex, “Company calls county lawsuit unjustifiable”, Valley Morning Star, Mar. 27).

To obtain sanctions for a frivolous lawsuit in Texas, a defendant has to prove, after an evidentiary hearing, that the lawsuit was not only groundless, but was brought in bad faith. To do this, one must overcome the presumption that papers are filed in good faith. Tex. R. Civ. Proc. 13; GTE Comm. Sys. Corp. v. Tanner, 856 S.W.2d 725, 731 (Tex. 1993). “A trial court may not base Rule 13 sanctions on the legal merit of a pleading or motion.” Aldine ISD v. Baty, 999 S.W.2d 113, 116-17 (Tex. App. Houston 1999). The lawyer of “empty head and pure heart” avoids sanctions–and the defendant ends up incurring additional fees and costs over the evidentiary hearing, no matter how groundless the initial suit. So when you hear that recovery is possible for frivolous lawsuits, remember that the judicial system has a different definition for “frivolous” than the layperson does. (Tex. Rules of Civ. Proc. 13).

Secondhand smoke vs. firsthand contraband

One of the larger costs from the lack of tort reform is not so much the damages awards to undeserving plaintiffs or the fees that plaintiffs’ lawyers extract or the cost of hiring lawyers to defend, but the social costs imposed when decisions are made to avoid the risk of litigation: playgrounds shut down, bans on cold weather swimming (“Don’t be so wet”, The Economist, Oct. 2 (subscription required)).

The repercussions have been particularly severe in Colorado, where a fear of secondhand smoking suits caused the prison system there, where the vast majority of the 18,000 prisoners incarcerated are smokers, to ban tobacco. The result? An immediate creation of a black market with markups for tobacco far exceeding that for cocaine, and the expected associated violence and corruption that goes along with a widespread black market in prison. Eighteen guards, teachers, and supervisors have been prosecuted in three years, and a prisoner newsletter calls the tobacco contraband law “a retirement assistance program for correctional officers.” (Kirk Mitchell, “Ban turns tobacco into prison prize”, Denver Post, Oct. 13).

Increase in number of “retarded” on Death Row

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports on an unintended, but predictable, consequence of the Supreme Court’s 2002 decision forbidding executions of the mentally retarded: hundreds of prisoners sentenced to death claiming for the first time that they are retarded. Pennsylvania has two bills pending to address the tens of such claims in their state, but any laws passed on the subject are surely only the source of additional litigation. (L. Stuart Ditzen, “Suddenly, prisons full of ‘retarded'”, Sep. 28; Atkins v. Virginia decision).