No Gag Order in Class Action for Prison Abuse

     BOISE, Idaho (CN) – A federal judge lifted a gag order in the civil-rights case against a private-prison company that runs an Idaho corrections facility that is so violent, it is allegedly known as the “Gladiator School.”

     Inmates say Correction Corporation of America’s Boise-area Idaho Correctional Center failed to protect them from violence and was “indifferent” to their medical needs.
     Prison officials used inmate-on-inmate violence as a management tool and refused to X-ray those injured, the prisoners claim.
     Inmate Marlin Riggs initiated a lawsuit against the Nashville, Tenn.-based company in 2009.
     As a host of additional complaints that raised similar claims against the prison’s officials were filed, a federal judge consolidated them with Riggs’ case.
     Riggs and his attorneys then filed an amended complaint that essentially combines his individual claims for monetary damages with a potential class action seeking only equitable relief.
     Correction Corporation of America, however, won a sweeping gag order after it argued that Riggs’ counsel, ACLU attorney Steven Pevar, made “inflammatory and prejudicial comments” in press releases and interviews. The company said Pevar’s remarks made a fair trail impossible and asked the court to bar attorneys, witnesses and other parties from speaking to news media.
     The Associated Press, hounding the lawsuit, demanded the gag order be lifted.
     U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge agreed on Wednesday.
     “The Court is persuaded that the AP has shown a sufficient First Amendment interest in the outcome of this Motion, and the Court will grant its request to intervene,” Lodge wrote.
     “The Court is not persuaded that a restraining order is necessary or advisable at this time,” the ruling states. “A sweeping order of the type that Defendants have proposed would be a prior restraint on free speech … and Defendants have not justified the infringement that such an order would have on the First Amendment rights of the parties, counsel, the media, and the public.”
     “Moreover, while the Court is concerned by the nature and tone of some of Mr. Pevar’s public statements, he appears to have made those statements on isolated occasions separated by several months over the course of the last year to year and a half,” Lodge wrote. “And though the Court is not entirely convinced by Mr. Pevar’s assertion that there is no longer any risk of prejudice to Defendants simply because he will not represent Riggs in the damages case, it agrees that the risk has been diminished somewhat by that turn of events.”
     The judge added that he may split the lawsuit, allowing Riggs to seek monetary damages independent of the class action. Pevar announced he will no longer represent Riggs, though he will still serve as counsel in the class action.
     Lodge said he was confident that voir-dire examinations would yield impartial jurors.
     “From this point forward, the Court trusts that all counsel will exercise discretion and refrain from making statements that might violate their ethical duties or jeopardize the fair administration of justice in this or any other case,” he wrote. Riggs seeks about $155 million in damages, the prison company’s entire net profit for 2009. His outcome will be decided by a jury, while Lodge will decide the class action.

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