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PLN Writer Settles Nude Photo Suit for $3,000

On June 2, 1998, a Florida prisoner and Assistant Attorney General struck a settlement deal in the midst of a federal trial. The prisoner regained possession of two nude photos confiscated by DOC officials in 1993 and received approximately $3,000 in compensation. In turn, the suit against five FDOC officials was dismissed.

The case began in August 1993 when PLN contributing writer James Quigley was transferred from Baker Corr. Inst. to Hardee Corr. Inst. Upon his arrival, Quigley's property was subjected to an inventory search by Hardee guard Michael Franchio, who seized numerous items, including a newspaper clipping (an obituary of a recently deceased relative) and two photographs featuring naked women. Franchio told Quigley the obituary was contraband because it was "altered" (i.e. cut out of a newspaper) and that the photo was subject to Hardee's" no nude photo" policy.

After exhausting his administrative remedies, Quigley filed suit in federal district court alleging that the newspaper clipping and photos were seized in violation of his First, Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Franchio, Hardee Asst. Supt. Jimmie Atmore and three other FDOC employees were named defendants. Quigley sought a declaratory judgement, injunctive relief (including return of the seized items) and $500 in compensatory damages. He also sought punitive damages from Atmore and another defendant.

In response to defendants' motion to dismiss, U.S. District Judge Susan Bucklew threw out all but Quigley's First Amendment claims. Thereafter, both parties moved for summary judgement. The court granted defendants' motion to the extent that they were accorded qualified immunity on the newspaper clipping issue. The court determined a trial would be necessary to resolve the photo claim and the declaratory judgement of the newspaper clipping policy.

At pretrial conference held on April 23, 1998, defendants were represented by Florida Assistant Attorney General (AAG) Locksley Wade, who characterized Quigley throughout the proceeding as a "frequent filer" of "frivolous" lawsuits. AAG Wade flatly refused to discuss settlement terms and insisted on a full blown jury trial before a district judge, despite the magistrate judge's suggestion that the case be docketed as a bench trial before a magistrate judge. It was determined, thereafter, that a jury trial before a district judge would take three days, and the case was placed on the court's accelerated trial docket.

Frivolous Prisoner Lawsuit or Frivolous AAG Trial?

Quigley represented himself at trial. After jury selection and opening arguments, he took the stand and described the photographs (which the defendants refused to produce), the newspaper clipping, how he acquired them, and the circumstances surrounding their seizure.

Next, Quigley placed Hardee Asst. Supt. Atmore on the stand. Atmore justified the seizure of nude photos because of "security" reasons. He claimed that prisoners fight over them. After Quigley established that Atmore had 17 years experience as a prison administrator, he asked how many instances Atmore could cite wherein prisoners had actually fought over a nude photo. He could only recount a single fight over a photo, but the photo in that case featured no nudity. The judge quickly ruled the story irrelevant.

Quigley turned to another line of questioning. He asked Atmore if, to his knowledge, prisoners ever fought over card games. Atmore said that was a frequent occurrence. What about basketball games or dominoes? Again, Atmore admitted that these activities frequently sparked violence among prisoners. Quigley asked whether the FDOC has a policy of providing playing cards, dominoes, and basketballs to prisoners. Atmore admitted this to be the case.

"Why, then" Quigley asked, does the FDOC dispense these provocative items to prisoners knowing that prisoners fight over them? And how could nude photos be categorized as a security threat when Atmore could not cite a single instance of prisoners fighting over them?

Quigley had several prisoners testify about arriving at Hardee with nude photos in their possession that were not confiscated. They also testified that they and other prisoners routinely received nude photos with official approval. They each identified several nude photos as belonging to them, many of which the court accepted as exhibits. They also described the general mayhem throughout the Florida prison system surrounding card, dominoes and basketball games, and the apparent lack of concern by FDOC officials about controlling the violence.

At the close of Quigley's case-in-chief, AAG Wade made a perfunctory motion for judgement as a matter of law, which was promptly denied by the judge, accompanied by some scathing criticism from the bench. The trial recessed for lunch.

During the recess Chief AAG Henry Gill approached Quigley to negotiate a settlement. Gill offered to return the photos. But Quigley countered that he would accept nothing less than the photos and a letter from FDOC Secretary Singletary stating the photos are authorized, plus the removal of all liens from his prison trust account. The liens consisted of approximately $2,500 in photocopy expenses, $400 in filing fees, and $20 in medical co-payments. Gill was receptive, but said he had to confer with superiors.

When the trial resumed, Gill advised Quigley that he was unable to reach Singletary to secure the letter, but the other terms were acceptable. Quigley agreed to accept the offer, and the parties notified the court. After the agreement was reduced to writing, the photos were delivered to Quigley in the courtroom. Before adjournment, however the judge castigated the AAG for failing to settle the case sooner and for wasting the court's time and resources defending their position.

After the trial, the local media, led by The Tampa Tribune , criticized Quigley for filing a "frivolous" lawsuit. While editorially bemoaning the "waste of taxpayers' monies," the Tribune failed to mention that it was the AG's office that was openly criticized by the judge for failing to settle the case and for wasting the court's time. No mention was made in the Florida papers about Quigley's numerous attempts to resolve the case administratively or through a negotiated settlement.

It may be, in part, because of this complicity by the media that Florida prison officials and state attorneys believe themselves to be above reproach.

Until prisoncrats are held accountable by the media (who, instead, find it easier to scapegoat prisoners), they will continue to cavalierly waste taxpayers money by flexing their authority in arbitrary, capricious and autocratic ways. In which case, prisoner litigation -- be it called "frivolous or not -- will persist. See; Quigley v. Atmore, et al. USDC case number 95-1138-Civ-T-24E (M.D. Fla.)

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