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Federal court enters preliminary injunction against Upshur County in jail censorship case

Prison Legal News, Jan. 1, 2013.
Press release - Federal court enters preliminary injunction against Upshur County in jail censorship case 2013

PRESS RELEASE


Human Rights Defense Center
For Immediate Release

October 2, 2013


Federal Court Enters Preliminary Injunction Against Upshur County in Jail Censorship Case

Gilmer, TX – On Monday, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas entered a preliminary injunction against Upshur County and Sheriff Anthony Betterton in a lawsuit over unconstitutional censorship and denial of due process of law at the Upshur County Jail.

On November 1, 2012, Prison Legal News (PLN), a monthly publication that reports on criminal justice-related issues, filed suit in federal court after mail sent to prisoners at the Upshur County Jail was censored. Jail officials rejected publications sent to prisoners, marking them “refused,” “returned to sender” or “no newspaper.” No notice was provided to PLN about the reason for the censorship, nor did the jail have a procedure for a publisher to file an appeal.

After PLN filed suit and sought a preliminary injunction, the Upshur County Jail adopted a new mail policy last month that, according to the district court, “provides somewhat more detailed standards for censoring mail’s content and sketches procedures for notice and appeal with respect to both senders and recipients.”

The court held that the new mail policy, although “a significant improvement,” did not moot PLN’s motion for a preliminary injunction, holding that “The evidence suggests that at least some of PLN’s correspondence with prisoners has been withheld from its intended recipients, depriving Plaintiff of its First Amendment rights without due process of law.”

Finding that “PLN is likely to prevail on the merits of its case,” and that “[i]n the absence of further injunctive relief, Plaintiff could expect continuing impingements on its First Amendment rights,” the court entered a preliminary injunction ordering Upshur County to abide by the terms of the jail’s new mail policy, with certain modifications. Those modifications include ensuring that both the recipient and sender receive notice of rejected mail within 72 hours that includes the “reason for rejection; notice of the opportunity for appeal; and procedures for requesting an
appeal.” An appeal may be filed within 21 days of the rejection notice, and the Sheriff shall, when possible, make a decision on an appeal within 72 hours.

“Though the Court is anxious to reaffirm its faith in the dedication, skill, and impartiality of Upshur County officials, it sees merit in a ‘trust but verify’ approach,” the district court wrote in its 15-page order on PLN’s motion for a preliminary injunction.

“This is the first step in what will prove to be a successful lawsuit against Upshur County and Sheriff Betterton,” said PLN editor Paul Wright. “As a law enforcement official, the Sheriff has an obligation to uphold the Constitution, including the First Amendment rights of people who want to communicate with those held in his jail. When he fails to meet his responsibilities to protect free speech, lawsuits are the only way to hold him accountable and to vindicate the Constitution.”

PLN is represented by Thomas Leatherbury, Sean W. Kelly, Kimberly McCoy and Marissa Anne Wilson of Vinson & Elkins; Scott Medlock and Brian McGiverin with the Texas Civil Rights Project, and by Human Rights Defense Center general counsel Lance Weber. The case is Prison Legal News v. Betterton, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Case No. 2:12-cv-00699-JRG.


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The Human Rights Defense Center, founded in 1990 and based in Lake Worth, Florida, is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to protecting the human rights of people held in U.S. detention facilities. HRDC publishes Prison Legal News (PLN), 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 and operates a website (Hwww.prisonlegalnews.orgH) that includes a comprehensive database of prison and jail-related articles, news reports, court rulings, verdicts, settlements and related documents.


For further information, please contact:

Paul Wright, Executive Director
Human Rights Defense Center
(561) 360-2523 (office)
(802) 275-8594 (cell)
pwright@prisonlegalnews.org

Scott Medlock, Attorney
Texas Civil Rights Project
1405 Montopolis Dr.
Austin, TX 78741
(512) 474-5073
(512) 474-0726 fax
Hsmedlock@texascivilrightsproject.org