A U.S. magistrate will recommend that the state Department of Corrections be ordered to pay attorney's fees to an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer representing a Utah State Prison inmate.
But Magistrate Ronald Boyce took under advisement evidence and arguments on whether Corrections officials should be found in contempt for double-bunking 248 inmates Tuesday after specifically agreeing not to do so.Corrections officials have said the double-bunking in the prison's Wasatch Unit resulted from a mix-up, not from any attempt to violate the court-approved agreement.
But the ACLU's acting executive director, Michele Parish-Pixler, told reporters she considers the department's explanation "science fiction." "They knew that we had an injunction in the works. Why didn't they check it before they moved them?" she asked.
Assistant Attorney General Kent Barry, representing Corrections, had agreed in court shortly before noon Tuesday that the department would delay the double-bunking until a June 26 hearing in a case challenging the planned moves, filed by the ACLU on behalf of inmate Thomas R. Humphries.
But at 1 p.m. Tuesday, prison personnel began moving inmates from single to double cells. The action was reversed later in the day.
Corrections witnesses at Wednesday's contempt hearing said the problem resulted from a delay Tuesday between when Barry made the agreement and when the word reached officials at the prison. They said the transfers were made in the interim and were halted as soon as prison officials learned of the agreement.
But Humphries, the inmate on whose behalf the ACLU filed suit, said he personally told more than one prison official about the agreement at the time they started the double-bunking, and they proceeded anyway.
Humphries testified that he learned of the agreement Tuesday from noon television news broadcasts as well as from Parish-Pixler.
The inmate said that when he told Housing Capt. Albert Walles, the captain replied only, "So?" And he said Fred Hurst, deputy warden of the Wasatch facility, just shrugged his shoulders. "He said that the judge didn't run the prison, that the Department of Corrections did."
Hurst and Walles testified that those conversations never occurred.
The department's inspector general, Scott McAlister, said the department had not violated the agreement because it prohibited any doubling up of inmates in blocks where that had not previously occurred, but in the past the units in question had been double-bunked.
Boyce rejected McAlister's argument. The magistrate said - and Barry confirmed - that Tuesday's record had clearly required prison officials to maintain the status quo until the June 26 hearing.
McAlister did win permission from Boyce Wednesday to double-bunk inmates if they voluntarily sign a consent form.
But ACLU attorney Michael Peterson said he's concerned about whether such moves will be truly voluntary. Numerous inmates have already complained of being threatened with written reprimands if they refused to sign earlier consent forms - an allegation that Corrections officials deny.
Boyce acknowledged that it's hard for the court to be sure no coercion or retaliation is taking place, but he specifically warned McAlister against it.
Boyce approved Peterson's request to be paid $85 an hour for his time in obtaining an injunction against the department. After the hearing, Peterson estimated he's spent 20 to 30 hours on the matter.