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PLN prevails in Ninth Circuit appeal challenging fees for monitoring censorship settlement

CNS, Jan. 1, 2010.
PLN prevails in Ninth Circuit appeal challenging fees for monitoring censorship settlement - CNS 2010

Prison Magazine Publisher Wins $595K


Courthouse News Service - June 09, 2010

(CN) - Prison Legal News, publisher of magazines and books related to prisoners' rights, will get $595,000 from the California Department of Corrections to pay bills the non-profit says it accrued to comply with a settlement agreement, the 9th Circuit ruled. [PLN note: The $595,000 figure is the total amount over the course of the entire case; this appeal involved fees and costs in the amount of $137,502].
Seattle-based 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 prisoners.
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.
The 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.
The 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 the agreement.
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.
The three-judge, San Francisco-based panel for the 9th Circuit upheld the district court's decision to make the department pick up the tab.
The 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.
"Thus 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.

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