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PLN settles Fulton County, GA jail censorship suit

Prison Legal News, Jan. 1, 2010.
Press Release - PLN settles Fulton County, GA jail censorship suit 2010

PRESS RELEASE

Prison Legal News – For Immediate Release

April 22, 2010

Fulton County Jail Settles First Amendment Censorship Suit, Pays $149,759.21

Atlanta, GA – Prison Legal News, a non-profit monthly publication that reports on criminal justice-related issues, announced today that it had prevailed in a First Amendment censorship suit against Fulton County and former Sheriff Myron Freeman.

The lawsuit, filed by Prison Legal News (PLN) in 2007, claimed that prisoners at the Fulton County Jail were not allowed to receive subscriptions to PLN due to a mail policy that barred prisoners from receiving non-religious reading materials. Such materials – including books, magazines and newspapers – were returned or destroyed without notice to the sender.

Although the same policy had been declared unconstitutional in a previous, unrelated case in 2002, the jail continued to use the policy to ban subscriptions to PLN. PLN contended that the ban on non-religious reading materials was overbroad, exaggerated, arbitrary and capricious, as well as unconstitutional in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The jail changed its mail policy after PLN filed suit to allow prisoners to receive PLN subscriptions.

Although the district court granted a preliminary injunction on February 4, 2008, enjoining the Fulton County Jail from using the previous unconstitutional mail policy, the litigation continued for the next two years. The county eventually agreed to settle the case by paying $30,000 to PLN as part of a consent judgment, plus attorney fees. The district court ordered Fulton County to pay PLN's attorney fees in the amount of $115,093.20 plus $4,666.01 in costs.

"It took a prior finding that the old mail policy was unconstitutional, plus the suit filed by Prison Legal News and a settlement of almost $150,000 in damages and fees before the Fulton County Jail got the message that they can’t violate the First Amendment rights of publishers that want
to send reading materials to prisoners," said PLN editor Paul Wright. "The taxpayers of Fulton County are the losers in this case, unfortunately, while the First Amendment prevailed."

The case is Prison Legal News v. Fulton County, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Case No.1:07-cv-02618-CAP. PLN was ably represented by Atlanta attorneys Brian Spears and Gerald Weber.


Prison Legal News (PLN), founded in 1990 and based in Brattleboro, Vermont, 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 around 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
Brattleboro, VT 05303
(802) 257-1342
pwright@prisonlegalnews.org

Gerald Weber, Attorney
Brian Spears, Attorney
P.O. Box 5391
Atlanta, GA 31107
(404) 932-5845
wgerryweber@gmail.com