AT&T to pay Washington prisoners’ families $45 million in telephone class action settlement

From the Seattle Times, Feb. 3 2013

Posted by Jonathan Martin

AT&T has agreed to settle a class action lawsuit involving collect calls made from Washington State prisons for $45 million, making at least 70,000 families eligible for payments.

The settlement, filed late Friday in King County Superior Court, ends a 12-year lawsuit that pin-balled between the state Supreme Court, the state Utilities and Trade Commission and King County Superior Court. Filed in 2000, the lawsuit accused AT&T and other phone companies of failing to disclose exorbitant rates for collect calls from prison. The case settled just as it was set to go to trial in King County to determine damages.

The lawsuit covers collect calls made between 1996 and 2000 from Department of Corrections facilities. The lawsuit was filed by family and friends of Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News and a former inmate in Washington State. Wright estimated that between 70,000 and 172,000 people could eligible for refunds, which include full reimbursement of the call charges, plus $200 per person.

At the time, those charges were $3.95 for the first minute and $.90 for each additional minute, according to Seattle attorney Chris Youtz, who pressed the class action case. After 20 minutes, the calls ended, requiring a new call, and a new surcharge. “The rates were ridiculous,” said Youtz.

Youtz said at least three people wracked up $20,000 in charges, according an analysis done during discovery in the case; others had $10,000 bills. Newspapers, such as The Seattle Times, and Columbia Legal Services, a nonprofit that monitors prison conditions, also likely will receive refunds for calls received from prisoners. If there is money left over after all class members who can be found are reimbursed – a big if, given the length of time that has gone by – some of the remainder will go to the Legal Foundation of Washington, which helps low-income people groups get lawyers, as well as to groups supporting prisoners’ families.

Legal notices will be filed notifying people of the potential refund. AT&T spokesman Marty Richter sent the following statement:

Read the rest here: http://blogs.seattletimes.com/opinionnw/2013/02/03/att-to-pay-washington-prisoners-families-45-million-in-telephone-class-action-settlement/

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Judge favors plaintiff in private prison case

By AP / Canadian Business | December 01, 2011

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Nashville judge ruled Thursday that private prison company Corrections Corporation of America must turn over more documents to a magazine that advocates for the rights of prisoners.

CCA had argued that the settlement documents sought by the plaintiff were confidential and handled by the prison’s general counsel, which operates independently and isn’t connected in any way to the state.

But Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman ruled once again that CCA is subject to Tennessee’s open records law because it is the equivalent of a government agency, and that no government entity can enter into a confidential settlement.

Alex Friedmann, a former prisoner who is now an editor at Prison Legal News, sent a letter to CCA in April 2007 asking for information on settlements, judgments and complaints against the company.

He sued CCA when the company refused to turn over the information, claiming it wasn’t subject to the state’s open records law. Bonnyman also heard the case in 2008, siding with Friedmann and ordering the company to turn over most of the records.

CCA appealed, arguing once again that it wasn’t subject to the law. The Tennessee Court of Appeals later upheld Bonnyman’s ruling that CCA is the equivalent of a government agency by running state prisons, and is subject to the open records law.

The prison turned over some documents, such as contracts. But Friedmann is still seeking verdicts against the company and settlement agreements with prisoners.

In her ruling Thursday, Bonnyman said the magazine won’t be able to get the documents until an appeal is resolved, and CCA’s attorneys have indicated they will likely appeal.

However, Friedmann said he doesn’t mind waiting because he views the judge’s latest ruling as a victory that sends a message once again that “CCA is considered a public agency when operating prisons and jails, and must comply with the Public Records Act.”

“This ruling provides some much needed transparency to CCA’s operations in Tennessee,” he said. “CCA has fought hard to avoid releasing records that would be public if sought from any government agency that runs prisons or jails.”

The ruling only applies to Tennessee prisons, not federal prisons or other facilities in other states that CCA runs.

CCA houses 75,000 offenders and detainees in more than 60 facilities with more than 80,000 beds — more than half those under private operation in the country, according to its website. Forty-four of the facilities are owned by the company, which employs 17,000 people.