Federal Civil Rights Filings Fall in Oklahoma Courts

Article excerpt

Fewer civil rights cases are being filed in Oklahoma federal courts, dropping almost 31 percent from 2003 to 2006.

In Oklahoma, 756 cases were filed in 2003, including government- filed and private-plaintiff litigation. By 2006, the state total fell to 523.

That eclipses the 20-percent overall decline in U.S. civil rights cases over the same time span, reported recently by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Two Oklahoma attorneys attribute the drop at least in part to the conservative U.S. Supreme Court and changes in federal law.

Nationally, total civil rights cases filed in U.S. district courts fell from 40,516 in 2003 to 32,865 in 2006.

BJS, a division of the U.S. Department of Justice, said most of the change occurred in employment discrimination cases, which rose from 8,413 in 1990 to almost 23,800 in 1996, before declining to 14,353 in 2006.

Civil rights complaints by prison inmates, which are counted separately, declined from 41,679 in 1995 to 25,462 in 1998, settling to about 24,500 cases a year from 1999 to 2006.

Oklahoma City attorney Rand Eddy said there may be a few factors affecting civil rights case filings, in his experience.

"The law, in civil rights cases, is difficult," he said.

As an example, he said that an inmate, to prove inadequate medical treatment, must prove not just negligence, but deliberate indifference, which is more difficult to establish.

Eddy said certain laws also make it more difficult to find government entities liable in civil rights cases.

"Those are not easy cases to prove," he said.

Eddy also thinks there is a predisposition in favor of law enforcement in cases involving people charged with crimes. …