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Shawnee County, KS settles PLN jail censorship suit

Capital-Journal, Jan. 1, 2012.
Shawnee County, KS settles PLN jail censorship suit - Capital-Journal 2012

County approves ACLU settlement

Posted: February 9, 2012 - 10:08am

By Aly Van Dyke

Shawnee County will pay $75,000 in a settlement with a legal magazine for the jail’s policy that prohibited it and other publications.

County commissioners Ted Ensley, Shelly Buhler and Mary Thomas unanimously approved the settlement during their Thursday meeting with little discussion.

"There’s a lot of things I’d like to say," Ensley said before the vote. He and Buhler declined to comment on the issue after the meeting.

Prison Legal News, a monthly magazine represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, sued the Shawnee County jail last year for its policy prohibiting inmates from receiving the journal as well as “packages, newspapers, magazines, books or other personal property.” Prison League News and ACLU challenged the policy, claiming it violated the magazine’s First and 14th Amendment rights.

With the settlement, the jail now will permit Prison Legal News, renewal notices for the journal, book fliers, order forms/catalogs and "similar types of mail" into the facility. The jail is prohibited from enforcing the previous policy and from making amendments that create more restrictions on publications protected by the settlement.

County counselor Rich Eckert said the $75,000 settlement as a "very good settlement for Shawnee County" compared to similar lawsuits throughout the states. Most other cases settled between $150,000 and $250,000, Eckert told commissioners Thursday. The most recent, he said, was in South Carolina, which settled for $600,000.

"The difference between South Carolina and us is that we immediately recognized that our policy needed to be fixed," Eckert said. "South Carolina fought it vigorously and paid for that."

Settlements reached those amounts not because of damages, he said, but because of the high attorney fees for the plaintiffs.

[remainder of article has been excluded as it deals with unrelated issues]

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