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PLN wins FOIA case against U.S. Bureau of Prisons

Prison Legal News, Jan. 1, 2006. http://www.november.org/stayinfo/breaking06/PLN...
Press Release - PLN wins FOIA case against U.S. Bureau of Prisons - 2006

June 27, 2006 - Prison Legal News (WA)

PRESS RELEASE

For Immediate Release - June 27, 2006

Prison Legal News Wins FOIA Lawsuit Against Federal Bureau Of Prisons

WASHINGTON, DC -- On June 26, 2006, U.S. District Court Judge Reggie B. Walton ruled in favor of Prison Legal News in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed against the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Prison Legal News (PLN), founded in 1990, is a Seattle-based non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human rights in U.S. prisons. PLN publishes a monthly newsletter that includes articles, reports, reviews and analysis of court rulings and news related to prisoners' rights and criminal justice issues. PLN has over 4,500 subscribers in all 50 states, including prisoners, lawyers, journalists, judges, courts, public libraries and universities. PLN also operates a website (www.prisonlegalnews.org) that contains a comprehensive national database of prison-related court rulings, verdicts and settlements.

PLN filed suit against the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) on Sept. 13, 2005 after the agency refused to grant PLN a fee waiver for a FOIA document request, claiming in part that PLN did not have the "intent and ability" to disseminate the requested documents to the public. PLN had requested documents related to public funds the BOP had paid out as a result of lawsuits and claims between January 1, 1996 and July 31, 2003.

PLN argued that release of the requested documents was in the public interest since the BOP operates the nation's largest prison system (with over 190,000 prisoners in 106 prisons), and because the expenditure of taxpayer dollars for lawsuits and claims filed against the agency, often due to constitutional violations, was a matter of important public concern.

The BOP delayed ruling on the fee waiver request for almost two years and then denied the request, effectively barring PLN's access to the information. Absent a fee waiver, smaller public-interest media organizations such as PLN are unable to obtain government documents that are supposed to be available to the public. In this case the BOP had attempted to impose a $7,000 fee for the requested documents for search and copying costs.

In ruling for PLN on a summary judgment motion, Judge Walton found that the disclosure of the requested information was "likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government." The Court further held that PLN had the ability to "widely disseminate" the information to the public, and the BOP was ordered to produce the requested documents without payment of fees.

On February 4, 2006, the New York Times noted in an editorial, The High Cost of Public Information, that the Bush administration had adopted a de facto policy of using high search fees to deprive non profit and public interest media organizations of access to information that is and should be public. Prison Legal News's case is the first to strike a blow against this administration policy.

PLN Editor Paul Wright stated, "This ruling is an important vindication for the independent media and, once the information is released, will bring an important measure of accountability and oversight to our nation's federal prisons."

The case is Prison Legal News v. Lappin, U.S. District Court D.C., Civil Action No. 05-1812 (RBW).

For Further Information Contact:

Paul Wright, Editor
Prison Legal News
2400 NW 80th St., Box 148
Seattle, WA 98117
(802) 275-8594
pwright@prisonlegalnews.org
www.prisonlegalnews.org

Edward Elder, PLN's attorney in this case, was pleased with the ruling. He said, "Judge Walton wrote a solid opinion defending the public's right of access to government information. I hope that PLN and others can use this ruling to support further disclosure." Mr. Elder works at the law firm of Klimaski and Associates, P.C.. His contact information is:

Edward Elder, Esq.
Klimaski and Associates, P.C.
1819 L Street, NW, Seventh Fl.
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 296-5600 , ext. 1002
elder@klimaskilaw.com