Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Utah Jail Policy Banning Subscriptions to Magazines and Newspapers Enjoined; Fees Awarded

by John E. Dannenberg

On June 2, 2004, the United States District Court (D. Utah) ruled that the Salt Lake County Jails (SLCJ) policy prohibiting prisoners receipt of any magazine or newspaper was unconstitutional. Brian Barnard, the persistent attorney, who fought the case for eleven years, was granted $28,374.89 in fees and costs, although the prisoner-plaintiffs were awarded only nominal damages ($1).

Former SLCJ prisoners Charles Farnsworth and thirteen others sued Salt Lake County for injunctive relief and damages in 1994, seeking to overturn SLCJs prohibition on media subscriptions. After eleven years and two judges, the court found in plaintiffs favor, ordered the ban abated, and awarded substantial fees but only nominal damages.

The court ruled that nominal damages meant $1 total, not $1/day, because the latter would amount to compensatory rather than symbolic damages. But the court recognized that resolution of the case served an important public purpose, and held that significant fees should be awarded. Accordingly, it granted half of the attorneys request for $56,750 in fees. PLN readers should note that because both injunctive relief and damages were sought and won, the PLRA fee cap of 150% of the damage award did not restrict total fees. (See, e.g., Dannenberg v. Valadez, 338 F.3d 1070 (9th Cir. 2003). See: Farnsworth v. Kennard, U.S.D.C. (D. Utah), No. 94 CV 65 (May 2005).

Salt Lake City attorney Brian Barnard is not taking this as the end of the matter. He is appealing the dismissal of other claims. Mr. Barnard also represents Prison Legal News in censorship litigation against the Utah Department of Corrections and jails in Utah. PLN, represented by Mr. Barnard, is challenging similar reading matter restrictions at the Cache County Jail, where prisoners are supplied two daily newspapers, but given only four minutes each to read them. Another lawsuit challenges Cache Countys policy of limiting which magazines are permitted, on grounds that this violates the free speech and due process rights of both prisoners and publishers.

Additional Sources: Rocky Mountain Verdicts and Settlements; Deseret Morning News.

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Farnsworth v. Kennard