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Georgia Jail Settles PLN Censorship Suit, Pays $149,759.21 in Damages, Attorney Fees

On April 22, 2010, Prison Legal News announced that it had settled a First Amendment censorship suit against Fulton County, Georgia and former Fulton County Sheriff Myron Freeman.

The lawsuit, filed by PLN in October 2007, claimed that prisoners at the Fulton County Jail were not allowed to receive subscriptions to PLN due to a mail policy that barred prisoners from receiving non-religious reading materials. Such materials – including books, magazines and newspapers – were returned or destroyed without notice to the sender. [See: PLN, Dec. 2007, p.30].

Although the same policy had been declared unconstitutional in a previous, unrelated federal lawsuit in 2002, the jail continued to use the policy to censor subscriptions to PLN. PLN argued that the ban on non-religious reading materials was overbroad, exaggerated, arbitrary and capricious, as well as unconstitutional in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The jail changed its mail policy to let prisoners receive PLN subscriptions after PLN filed suit.

The district court granted a preliminary injunction on February 4, 2008, enjoining the Fulton County Jail from using the previous unconstitutional mail policy; however, the litigation continued for the next two years. The county eventually agreed to settle the case by paying $30,000 to PLN as part of a consent judgment, plus attorney fees. The district court subsequently ordered Fulton County to pay PLN’s attorney fees in the amount of $115,093.20 plus $4,666.01 in costs.

“It took a prior finding that the old mail policy was unconstitutional, plus the suit filed by Prison Legal News and a set-tlement of almost $150,000 in damages and fees before the Fulton County Jail got the message that they can’t violate the First Amendment rights of publishers that want to send reading materials to prisoners,” stated PLN editor Paul Wright. “The taxpayers of Fulton County are the losers in this case, unfortunately, while the First Amendment prevailed.”

The settlement was reported in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. PLN was ably represented by Atlanta attorneys Brian Spears and Gerald Weber. See: Prison Legal News v. Fulton County, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Georgia), Case No. 1:07-cv-02618-CAP.

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Related legal case

Prison Legal News v. Fulton County