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Thursday, May 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Lawyers Get Fees for Fighting Idaho Prison

(CN) - Idaho must cover legal fees connected to a prison overcrowding case that has spanned over 25 years, the 9th Circuit ruled.

The prisoners won their case, pro se, in 1984, with the court finding that deliberate indifference unrelated to any penological purpose led to "needless pain and suffering, on account of inadequate medical and psychiatric care," as summarized by the 9th Circuit on Tuesday.

"That, plus overcrowding, and inadequate attention to housing and security, contributed to stabbings, assaults, gang rape and sexual slavery," Judge Andrew Kleinfeld wrote for a three-judge panel. "Close custody (the classification for especially dangerous or vulnerable prisoners) was so badly managed that 'Virtually every young man assigned to that custody level was brutally raped.'" (Parentheses in original.)

Despite the court-ordered injunction, however, the crowding problem only worsened over the years.

As the economy sank in 2008, Idaho ended its prison contracts Texas and Oklahoma, which had been housing 650 Idaho prisoners.

Facing an influx of 300 new prisoners from Texas to its already overcrowded facility, Idaho converted a warehouse into a new prison unit. For toilet facilities, inmates had to use trailers outside the building.

The prison moved 200 existing prisoners into the warehouse before the arrival of the Texas inmates. Since the on-site toilet facility was not operational, the prisoners had to share four toilets, three urinals and four sinks inside the warehouse. They had to be transported to another building for showers. On Jan. 2, 2009, the inmates rioted, starting a small fire and destroying the facility.

The law firm of Stoel Rives, which was appointed to represent the prisoners, moved to hold the state in contempt for violating the 1984 injunction. Chief U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill did not enter the contempt order, however, because the state complied with the injunction by removing prohibited double cells.

Stoel Rives moved for an award of fees, which included prior representation that resulted in the firm only receiving a portion of the fees owed. Idaho disputed the amount, which included $77,000 in attorney's fees, more than $2,000 in costs and expenses, and about $200 for postage and office supplies.

Winmill awarded a slightly reduced amount totaling $77,000, which the 9th Circuit affirmed Tuesday.

"Stoel Rives's work was what one would expect of a lawyer working for a client that could afford its efforts but that was not indifferent to the cost," Kleinfeld wrote for the Seattle-based appellate panel. "The firm showed no evidence of milking the case and the fees were directly and reasonably incurred."

A privately run facility called the Idaho Correction Facility has also had its share of problems, with inmates claiming that the prison earned the nickname "Gladiator School" for its pervasive violence.

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