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Court denies motion to dismiss PLN censorship suit vs. Fulton County jail

Prison Legal News, Jan. 1, 2009.
Press release - Court denies motion to dismiss PLN censorship suit vs. Fulton County jail 2009

PRESS RELEASE

Prison Legal News – For Immediate Release

July 14, 2009

FEDERAL COURT RULES AGAINST FULTON COUNTY, SHERIFF FREEMAN IN MOTION TO DISMISS FIRST AMENDMENT CENSORSHIP SUIT


Atlanta, GA – On July 13, 2009, the U.S. District Court in Atlanta denied a motion by Fulton County and Sheriff Myron Freeman to dismiss a lawsuit alleging unconstitutional censorship at the Fulton County Jail, and held the case must go to trial.

Prison Legal News (PLN), a monthly publication that reports on prison, jail and criminal justice-related issues, filed suit against the county and Sheriff Freeman on October 22, 2007, contending that the jail was enforcing an unconstitutional policy that prohibited prisoners from receiving any books, magazines or newspapers other than religious publications.

The same policy had been found unconstitutional by a federal court in 2002; however, when Sheriff Freeman took office in 2005 he retained the old mail policy, and PLN publications sent to prisoners at the jail were rejected or destroyed without notice. The jail changed its mail policy after PLN filed suit, and the court entered a preliminary injunction in February 2008.

In his most recent ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Charles A. Pannell, Jr. denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, finding that PLN had a "clearly established constitutional right to send inmates its subscription newsletter." Rejecting Sheriff Freeman’s argument that he was unaware of the old mail policy when he first took office, the court noted that the Sheriff’s legal counsel told him sometime prior to May of 2007 that the jail’s mail policy was unconstitutional, months before the policy was revised.

Judge Pannell also found there was insufficient evidence at the present stage of the proceedings to determine whether or not PLN’s rights had been violated under the old mail policy, based on conflicting statements from jail staff and from prisoners who testified they did not receive their PLN subscriptions. Due to this factual dispute, the case was set for trial where a jury may award actual and punitive damages. "We are pleased with the court’s ruling and look forward to going to trial," stated PLN editor Paul Wright.

The case is Prison Legal News v. Fulton County, U.S. District Court (N.D. Georgia), Case No. 1:07-cv-02618-CAP. PLN is represented by Gerry Weber, of the Law Offices of Gerry Weber (www.constitutional-litigation.com), and Brian Spears, an Atlanta civil rights attorney.

Prison Legal News (PLN), founded in 1990 and based in Seattle, Washington, is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human rights in U.S. detention facilities. PLN publishes a monthly magazine that includes reports, reviews and analysis of court rulings and news related to prisoners' rights and criminal justice issues. PLN has almost 7,000 subscribers nationwide and operates a website (www.prisonlegalnews.org) that includes a comprehensive database of prison and jail-related articles, news reports, court rulings, verdicts, settlements and related documents. PLN is a project of the Human Rights Defense Center.


For further information, please contact:

Paul Wright, Editor
Prison Legal News
P.O. Box 2420
West Brattleboro, VT 05303
(802) 275-8594
(802) 257-1342 cell
pwright@prisonlegalnews.org

Gerry Weber, Attorney
P.O. Box 5391
Atlanta, GA 31107-0391
(404) 688-1202
gweber@constitutional-litigation.com

Brian Spears, Attorney
Smith, White, Sharma & Halpern
1126 Ponce de Leon Avenue
Atlanta, Georgia 30306
(404) 872-7086
bspears@mindspring.com