Anti-Censorship Lawsuit Strategies Used by a Successful Jailhouse Lawyer
This article was submitted a year ago after the author won a successful anti-censorship lawsuit in Wisconsin where the prison administration was censoring materials because they were critical of the department and encouraged legal challenges to their abuses. As MIM(Prisons) continues to stress, censorship has nothing to do with the safety and security of humyn beings and everything to do with the safety and security of the state and its use of repression. This article is being posted as we work to release a collection of legal documents and launch a Serve the People program for jailhouse lawyers. We apologize for not publishing this sooner.
Dear MIM Distributors,
I am glad to share with your readers the successful strategy used in my First Amendment case that could be used by other prisoners in the future. However, I would be remissed if I didn't acknowledge the assistance of well known Legal Activist and Para-legal "MoSo" who actually litigated the case.
He provided me with this information for your article. He indicated that prison officials always rely on the trusted and well used excuse to deny your rights by asserting "security" or as in this case, that the material was "inflammatory".
This derives from the well-known phrase that although you have a First Amendment right to freedom of speech, you cannot shout "Fire!!" in a crowded movie theater. Even the Supreme Court has recognized there are limits of what a person can say, including things such as "Fighting Words". These types of restrictions are amplified in the prison context, of course, and are over exaggerated by prison officials.
Thus, the first thing in litigating such issues is to make sure to continue to remind the court that it is their Constitutional duty to review those decisions "independently." This is true despite the assertions put forth by prison officials to support their decisions, and despite the fact that the court owes such decisions some deference. So once you can get the court to step outside of the prison official's mind set, and look at the issue legally, then you have passed the first hurdle.
Most of these conservative Republican judges simply read what the prison official says and accept that as being a valid reason to infringe upon a Constitutional Right. However, a judge's job is to "protect" the Constitution, not act as a supervisor authority for the prison or a rubber stamp, nor be a sympathetic ear for something bad prison officials did against you.
Whether the Court is in your own Circuit or an outside Circuit (if you can't find one in yours), try to develop arguments that show that the Court had ruled against whatever it is the prison officials did. A lot of prisoners make the mistake of thinking the more cases you cite for a proposition, the stronger your argument is and the court will be impressed. What I have learned is stick to one or two cases that are factually the same and continually argue from those cases, showing such excuses are either not valid, with no connection to the "concern," or are exaggerated to such a concern.
In convincing a court such excuses are not valid or are an exaggeration, I used the "comparison" technique. There is well-known case law which holds that if you can show other prisons of the same security allow certain things, even publications, when another bans it, the concern put forth by that prison has been shown to be either invalid or exaggerated. So in the case cited as Lorenzo Johnson v. Rick Raemisch, et al., Case No. 07-CV-309-bbc. (W.D. Wis), we got affidavits from other prisons showing the publication was allowed in those institutions and yet was banned from mine. [note: MIM(Prisons) can often provide documentation of where certain items have been allowed if needed.]
In addition, in discovery, I requested what specific material the defendants deemed objectionable. Then when arguing in the briefs, proved that all that same information alleged to be inflammatory was in fact available to inmates from other sources allowed in the prison, such as on the computer, news paper articles, or even in prior published court decisions.
And lastly, what I would like to import to other prisoners attempting to litigate any First Amendment claims is the fact that most publications are denied based on prison officials' conclusions that such publications create a risk to security because they are either inflammatory, or contain gang symbols or racist materials. So one should make sure to read and cite the Supreme Court's decision in Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U.S. 396 (1976). Another case I would recommend to read is Bressman v. Farrier cite as 825 F. Supp. 231 (N.D. Iowa. 1993). These are just good cases to keep in your ammo belt.
I hope this information helps others. I believe Judge Crabb's decision in Johnson, supra, could also be helpful if cited, as it was finally a principled decision based purely on law and showing that a true judge's Constitutional responsibility is to uphold the Constitution, no matter who's right and wrong. The judge is supposed to be "impartial."
Justice for all!!!