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Federal Court Orders California to Allow SHU Prisoner Contact Attorney Visits

On April 14, 2014, a California federal court ordered the California State Prison-Corcoran to allow Security Housing Unit (SHU) prisoner Andrew R. Lopez contact visits with attorney Robert Navarro and another attorney.

In the instant action, Lopez filed a federal civil rights action alleging prison officials retaliated against him for his litigation and grievance activities and violated his due process rights in having him confirmed as a gang member and placed in SHU. A jury found for defendants on all claims. Lopez appealed and the Ninth Circuit reversed both claims.

While awaiting retrial, Lopez sought to consolidate this case with a second action challenging his subsequent gang validations and retention in SHU. Even though the noncontact visitation had only a single visitor phone handset and there were voluminous documents associated with the cases that had to be passed between attorneys and client, prison officials refused to allow Lopez contact visits with his two attorneys. Lopez sought an order requiring the prison to allow contact visits with his attorneys.

The court agreed with Lopez. Although Lopez had violent disciplinary history, his more recent history was better and he had been well behaved in the courtroom, as the judge had observed. The attorneys were willing to be flexible enough to schedule their visits when the visitation area was least in use and there was the least demand on the guards assigned there, adequately addressing the defendants' logistical concerns.

Because a prisoner has a non-absolute right to contact visitation with his counsel and a complete ban on such contact visitation is an exaggerated response to legitimate penological concerns, the court ordered the prison to allow two "reasonably long" contact visits with the attorneys and ordered the attorneys to accommodate the needs of the prison in scheduling the visits. See: Lopez v. Cook, No. 2:03-cv-01605-KJM-DAD (U.S.D.C. - E. D. Cal.).

Related legal case

Lopez v. Cook