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PLN Editor Settles Retaliation Suit

In the May, 1993, issue of PLN we reported that PLN editor Paul Wright had won a reversal and remand from the ninth circuit court of appeals in an unpublished ruling, Wright v. Rebiero, a retaliation suit filed against Washington state prison officials. On May 6, 1997, the case was dismissed as part of a settlement between the parties.

In 1988 officials at the Washington State Reformatory (WSR) in Monroe, WA, began double celling prisoner while prison cellblocks were renovated. This double celling violated a consent decree, Collins v. Thompson, entered into 8 years before which mandated the prison be kept at its single cell capacity. Less than a year after reaching that goal the DOC sought to again double cell WSR prisoners. Wright, former PLN co-editor Ed Mead, and a few others were opposed to the double celling and got the issue back into court where, in early 1989, Judge Rothstein of the U.S. district court in Seattle, entered an order requiring the prison be single celled, in accordance with Collins.

At that point the DOC began a campaign of intimidation in an effort to get WSR prisoners to sell out their court victory and be double celled anyway. Their tactics included spreading rumors the prison would be closed if it wasn't double celled; that the prisoners would all be sent to Walla Walla, and others. During discovery, the various defendants admitted these were lies. A meeting of the Lifer's Club was scheduled to vote on whether or not to agree to be double celled. At the meeting on March 20, 1989, the capitulators and collaborators duly repeated the DOC line. Wright spoke out on behalf of enforcing Judge Rothstein's order on numerous grounds, including the fact that prisoners had struggled for ten years already to get WSR single celled and shouldn't squander those gains and condemn future generations of prisoners to overcrowded conditions. The matter was publicly voted on and prisoners unanamously decided to enforce Rothstein's order.

The next day Wright was placed in segregation and accused of trying to overthrow the U.S. government. After declining an offer from then WSR associate superintendent Lyle Poolman to become an informant, Wright was transferred to the Washington State Penitentiary, after ten days in segregation, based on WSR officials claim he was a "threat to prison security." After unsuccessful administrative grievances failed, Wright filed suit, pro se, in 1990. The suit was dismissed by the district court and reversed by the ninth circuit.

The appeals court held that Wright had presented ample circumstantial evidence he had been retaliated against by Kenneth Ducharme, the WSR warden, Jim Evans, then the WSR intelligence officer and now the WSP captain, and Howard Anderson, a unit supervisor and "investigator," for his speech at the Lifer's club. The defendants would eventually claim ten different "reasons" for placing Wright in segregation and transferring him, changing their story each time a "reason" was disproved.

On remand the case was scheduled for trial when the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds. The district court denied the motion and the defendants appealed, arguing they couldn't possibly have known it was unlawful to retaliate against prisoners who sought enforcement of court orders. The ninth circuit dismissed their appeal, holding the disputed factual issues precluded resolution of the immunity claim.

On remand Wright was represented by Seattle attorney Michael Gendler. Shortly before the trial began on May 5, 1997, the parties settled the suit. The state of Washington agreed to pay Wright a global settlement of $9,950.00, which included attorney fees; redacted the documents used to justify and coverup Wright's retaliatory transfer and agreed not to use any of the documents in any future administrative or judicial proceedings. The three defendants, Ducharme, Evans and Anderson, denied any wrongdoing. The settlement ended seven years of litigation and one year of administrative grievances. The state had initially offered Wright $200 to dismiss the suit, which he rejected. The settlement is unpublished but part of the court record as an attachment to Michael Gendler's affidavit of May 7, 1997, as the defendants did not want the settlement to be part of the public record. See: Wright v. Ducharme, Case No. C90-396R, WD WA at Seattle.

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Related legal case

Wright v. Ducharme

The settlement is in the brief bank.