Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Legal Beat

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Legal Beat

Article excerpt

Oklahoma's prison system could be subject to a major review because of a federal appeals court's ruling that reopens litigation involving court supervision of prisons.

"It's clear that the Court of Appeals is envisioning a major review of the conditions of Oklahoma's prisons," attorney Louis Bullock, who represents inmates in the lawsuit against the state, said this week.

Assistant Attorney General Guy Hurst disagreed. He said any review would likely amount to oral arguments, similar to a courtroom trial.

"This wouldn't be a major relook at prisons, just a look to see if injunctive orders should be dissolved," Hurst said.

In a 3-0 vote, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled June 27 that U.S. District Judge Frank Seay violated inmates' due process when he dissolved the court supervision without giving them a chance to be heard.

Hurst said he had not received a copy of the ruling. The state has seven days to ask for a rehearing.

Seay's Nov. 17 order appeared to put an end to court supervision in the landmark case known as Battle vs. Anderson. Inmate Bobby Battle filed the lawsuit in 1972, claiming crowded, unsanitary prisons violated the Eighth Amendment.

A federal judge ruled 10 years later that Oklahoma prisons were constitutional, although he allowed the court to keep a supervisory role.

Seay's ruling said court supervision no longer was necessary because of state Department of Corrections changes that kept the prison system in compliance with the Constitution.

Hurst said the 10th Circuit order means "we're kind of back where we were" before Seay's ruling.

Bullock said if there is a review of state prisons, the size of it would depend on how much the state complies with court orders related to prison conditions.

Nothing in the past seven months indicates the state is making progress, he said. …

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