Judge: Florida Corrections Department incorrect in censorship of magazine, must pay $1.2 million
James Call, Tallahassee DemocratPublished 11:10 a.m. ET Oct. 26, 2019
The cost of censorship in prison for state taxpayers is $1.2 million.
Prison Legal News, a criminal-justice magazine for inmates, was awarded $1.2 million in attorney fees October 22, by a federal district court in Tallahassee. The nine-year old lawsuit centered on the Florida Department of Corrections rejection of all issues of the 72-page publications based on the content of its advertisements.
Florida is the only state, which censors the 30-year old publication because of ads for phone services, pen-pals and postage stamps.
Four years ago, the district court held that DOC’s censorship guidelines did not violate First Amendment rights but that they did violate Prison Legal News’ due process rights when officials failed to provide adequate notice the magazine was rejected.
In his 36-page order, U.S. District Court Judge Mark E. Walker awarded $1,148,210.89 in fees plus $33,448.57 in litigation expenses to PLN, published by Lake Worth Beach-based the Human Rights Defense Center.
Walker had previously awarded PLN $6,204.42 in costs, to bring the grand total to $1,187,863.88 for the 4,064 hours PLN’s lawyers worked to litigate the suit.
The Department of Corrections did not have an immediate response to the ruling.
The Tallahassee Democrat reportedin August that 20,000 publications, including Prison Legal News, have been banned by the Department of Corrections in what critics call a punitive interpretation of a 1987 court ruling that allows the state to restrict inmates' First Amendment rights.
The courts allow prison officials to ban publications if it serves a “legitimate penological interest.” That interest is usually couched in terms of safety and security.
When the Tallahassee Democrat asked multiple questions about the policy, the Department of Corrections provided a current list of prohibited materials and relevant statutes and rules but declined further discussion.