NEW ORLEANS (CN) – The State of Louisiana and its 5th Circuit Court of Appeal unconstitutionally treated state prisoners’ pro se claims differently from lawsuits filed with assistance of counsel, according to a class action in Federal Court.
Represented by Martin Regan Jr., inmate Ted Addison claims that “an en banc meeting was held on February 8, 1994, wherein all presiding judges [agreed] that pro se writ applications would be treated differently from writ applications filed by parties who were represented by retained counsel.”
From then until 2007, “the judges of the Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal and their employees have used a process created to dispose of pro se writ applications denying pro se litigants constitutional review,” the complaint states.
Pro se writs received by the court were forwarded to former Central Staff Director Jerrold “Jerry” Peterson, it states. Rather than assigning the pro se writs a random panel, as is standard with new filings, the class action claims that Peterson reviewed the applications and assigned them rulings himself, which he selected from a typical rulings list. Peterson’s rulings were written on sticky notes that also contained information “such as a particular pair of alphabetical letters, ‘W.D.’ which the secretary was trained to interpret as an order to deny the writ, or ‘writ denied'”.
When Peterson was finished with the writs, they were passed along to a Central Staff secretary, who typed the numbered ruling onto the customary court disposition sheet, the complaint states. The secretary was instructed to look at the typical rulings list to get the language for the writ disposition sheet and to change the ruling to conform to information on the sticky note.
Once the writ disposition sheet was completed, Peterson took it to Judge Edward Dufresne for his signature, the complaint states. It adds: “The pro se writ disposition sheets gave the impression that a three-judge panel had ruled on the case because they had the signature of one judge and the typed names of two other judges.”
This “ghost” panel of three judges was to give the appearance that each ruling complied with the “Louisiana Uniform Rules of Courts of Appeal, Rules 1-5, Louisiana statutory law and the right to judicial review afforded by the state and federal constitutions.”
The practice ended in May 2007, when Peterson retired, the complaint states. The class demands judicial review for constitutional violations.