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WA Prisoner Properly Denied Access to Savings Account to Hire Lawyer for Parolability Hearing

WA Prisoner Properly Denied Access to Savings Account to Hire Lawyer for Parolability Hearing

by Roger Smith

Division 2 of the Washington Court of Appeals has upheld a denial by the state Department of Corrections (DOC) of a prisoner’s request to use funds from his Personal Inmate Savings Account (PISA) to hire counsel to represent him at a parolability hearing.

On June 18, 2004 Glen Thomas, a Washington state prisoner at the Monroe Corrections Complex near Monroe, Washington, asked superintendent Gary Fleming for permission to use $2,000 from his PISA to hire a lawyer to represent him at his upcoming parolability hearing. Even though Thomas’ PISA had almost $8,000 in it, Fleming denied his request because he wasn’t going to use the money for community transition upon his release from prison or for an emergency.

Thomas had about $2,500 in his spendable account at the time, but he was using that money to pay another attorney in a different matter. Believing his need for counsel at his parole hearing, under the circumstances, constituted an emergent need to access his PISA, he filed suit against then-DOC Secretary Joe Lehman in state superior court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The superior court granted summary judgment to the DOC, finding no emergency, and Thomas appealed.

On appeal, Division 2 recognized that RCW § 72.09.111(3) allowed Thomas to access his PISA to deal with emergencies. The Court also recognized that there was no regulatory definition for the word “emergency” in this context and that the legislature had left it up to the DOC to make that determination. Thus, Thomas could prevail only if he could show that Fleming had arbitrarily or capriciously denied him access to his PISA funds.

Since Thomas had about $2,500 in his PISA when he requested the PISA funds to hire a lawyer for his parole hearing, the Court found that there was no emergency requiring him to use money from his PISA. On that basis, the Court held that Fleming hadn’t arbitrarily or capriciously denied Thomas’ request for the PISA funds. Therefore, the Court affirmed the superior court and dismissed Thomas’ appeal. See: Thomas v. Lehman, 158 P.3d 86 (2007).

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Related legal case

Thomas v. Lehman