Court Awards Fees Against Prison System

, New York Law Journal

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An attorney in Buffalo who successfully prosecuted a contempt motion against the state prison system is entitled to nearly $25,000 in fees, a federal judge ruled on Monday.

Western District Judge Richard Arcara (See Profile), who last year sanctioned the former Department of Correctional Services in the amount of $19,600 for violating an injunction involving three pro se inmates, said Michael Deal of Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria is entitled to $24,705. The sum represents an hourly fee of $225.

Amaker v. Goord, 06-cv-490, centers on three convicts who challenged a prison system policy under the First Amendment as well as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA). Under the policy, only Rastafarians were permitted to wear dreadlocks. The plaintiffs, who are members of the Nation of Islam/Al-Islam, challenged the policy.

In 2010, Arcara enjoined the state from precluding the plaintiffs' attendance at Nation of Islam services because of their dreadlocks or punishing the plaintiffs for refusing to cut their hair or change their religious affiliations. However, when officials violated the injunction and filed a misbehavior report against an inmate who would not cut his hair, Arcara appointed Deal to pursue a contempt motion.

Arcara in October adopted the recommendation of U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder Jr. (See Profile) and sanctioned the prison system. Schroeder had "no doubt" that the defendants' "contempt of this court's preliminary injunction was willful."

In a brief order issued Monday, Arcara accepted Schroeder's approval of Deal's request for legal fees.

Court records show the state did not respond to the request for attorney fees.

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