“The (jail) is following the opinion, but I think the Sixth Circuit made a mistake, without any doubt, I really do,” he said Tuesday.
“I think the way legal mail is defined by the Sixth Circuit is subject to abuse by people, especially people who are not lawyers,” Seward added.
Meanwhile, a separate lawsuit filed by Prison Legal News about the appropriateness of the jail’s postcard-only policy returns to court Oct. 6 for arguments on motions.
The county jail’s policy has been to limit inmate mail to postcards only, and legal mail was delivered if the attorney had an attorney-client relationship with the inmate.
The ACLU sent about two-dozen letters to inmates, which they said were not properly delivered.
The appeals court overturned the county’s policy, calling it “arbitrary.” The court further noted that letters from the ACLU were “precisely the type of communication that an attorney and an inmate would want to kept confidential.”
According to the settlement agreement, dated Friday, the county — which does not admit wrongdoing or liability — will deliver properly labeled legal mail to inmates “regardless of whether an attorney has an attorney-client relationship with the inmate.”
The agreement further noted that the legal mail needs to be properly labeled for delivery and must be addressed to a specific inmate.
Seward said the settlement agreement leaves open the possibility to review the decision and possible policy updates should any future court decisions affect the current policy.
Seward said there also have been discussions to settle the Prison Legal News lawsuit, but representatives with that group have “not been receptive to the ideas from the jail.” One suggestion, Seward noted, was for Prison Legal News to donate its materials, which would be placed in the jail library.
“They said, no, that wasn’t good enough,” Seward noted.
Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News, said they have "always been open to resolving the case," but the county has "never, in five years of litigation, made any offer to settle the case nor indicated they have any interest in settling the case." Their resolution would include allowing inmates to send and receive letter mail as well as receiving and retain books and magazines.
"Given how their lawyers are churning the case I suspect they are ready to fight this to the last penny of taxpayer money," Wright said. "I note they settled the ACLU case only after losing in the District Court, losing in the appeals court and losing in the U.S. Supreme Court. I suspect that will be the same pattern here. PLN has already prevailed on its due process claim in the District Court in our case. ...
"The jail has vehemently rejected and fought tooth and nail against the prospect that its captive citizens should be allowed to enjoy basic First Amendment freedoms like that of writing letters to people, receiving letters and being able to read books and magazines," he added. "Given the jail's blatant disregard for the constitution any settlement agreement will have to be under the auspices of the federal court in an enforceable agreement. I have no idea if the jail is open to any of this because they have never asked us."
This story has been updated to include Prison Legal News' response, which was not immediately available prior to initial publication.