FREE PRESS — Elizabeth Banicki reports for Courthouse News Service that Prison Legal News, non-profit publisher of magazines and books related to
prisoners' rights, will get $595,000 from the California Department of
Corrections to pay bills it says it accrued to comply with a
settlement agreement, the 9th Circuit, U.S.Court of Appeals has ruled.
Prison Legal News entered a settlement agreement with the California
Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation after the organization
complained in 2005 that its free speech rights were being violated
because the department refused to deliver its magazines and books to
Prison Legal News publishes a monthly magazine with
information relating to the legal rights of prisoners. It also
distributes prisoner-oriented books, the ruling says.
complaint alleged that some corrections institutions refused to deliver
the magazine to prisoners housed in certain units, while other
institutions banned the magazine on the grounds that Prison Legal News
was not an approved vendor. The organization also complained about bans
on its hardcover books.
In December 2006, after a year of
negotiation, the department promised in a settlement agreement with the
news organization that the ban on hardcover books would be lifted and
that Prison Legal News would not have to become an approved vendor. It
also agreed to compile a list of prohibited publications for reference.
department agreed to pay $65,000 for the alleged First Amendment
violations and to pay all of the organization's legal fees prior to the
settlement agreement. The agreement also stated that the department
would be responsible for all post-settlement fees the organization
accrued in making sure that the department complied with the terms of
That amount grew to more than half a million
dollars after the organization paid attorneys hourly rates for
monitoring the case and for speaking to prisoners.
San Francisco-based panel for the 9th Circuit upheld the district
court's decision to make the department pick up the tab.
panel agreed that because Prison Legal News was the prevailing party, it
is entitled to attorneys' fees and court costs.
The panel also
recognized that the settlement agreement provided that Prison News had
the right to pursue claims for costs associated with "work spent on
substantive issues related to this agreement," the ruling says.
there can be no question that [Prison Legal News'] pursuit of fees for
that work is consistent with the terms of the agreement," Judge
Diarmuid O'Scannlain wrote.