Perkins Coie LLP announced today that it will fund two public service attorney positions in Arizona with a portion of the fees awarded to the firm in a class-action lawsuit challenging the unconstitutional level of healthcare, mental healthcare and dental care in Arizona’s prisons, along with seeking reforms in the use of solitary confinement.
Perkins Coie will fund (1) a newly created Legal Director position at the Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project and (2) a staff attorney’s position at the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona. Perkins Coie will fund both positions for two years and will dedicate the remainder of the fee award to pro bono and public service initiatives and expenditures at the firm.
“Our practice is that any fees awarded to Perkins Coie for its work on pro bono matters are used only for pro bono related purposes — either donated to nonprofit public service organizations or used to fund pro bono initiatives at the firm,” said Perkins Coie Managing Partner John Devaney. “Perkins Coie is deeply committed to pro bono legal service. We are proud of the work by our attorneys and staff on the Arizona prison reform case and thrilled that we can use the award of attorneys’ fees to help further these and other important causes,” said Mr. Devaney.
The lawsuit, Parsons v. Ryan, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona in 2012 on behalf of a class of more than 33,000 inmates in Arizona’s state prisons, challenging years of inattention to the health needs of the prisoners and improper and excessive use of solitary confinement, resulting in serious harm and unnecessary deaths. District Court Judge Neil V. Wake certified the case as a class action in March 2013, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed that ruling in June 2014.
In a settlement reached the week before the start of trial in October 2014, the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) agreed to meet more than 100 healthcare performance measures, covering issues such as monitoring of prisoners with diabetes, hypertension and other chronic conditions; care for pregnant prisoners; and dental care.
The settlement also requires ADC to overhaul its rules for prisoners with serious mental illnesses in solitary confinement. Instead of spending all but six hours a week in their cells, such prisoners now have a minimum of 19 hours a week outside the cell, and this time must include mental health treatment and other programming. ADC must also restrict guards’ use of pepper spray on these prisoners, using it only as a last resort when necessary to prevent serious injury or escape.
The settlement provides for ongoing monitoring and oversight by the prisoners’ lawyers to make sure the state is complying with its terms.
As part of the settlement, the ADC agreed to pay $4.9 million for attorneys’ fees and costs to plaintiffs’ counsel: Perkins Coie, the Prison Law Office, the ACLU National Prison Project, Jones Day, the ACLU of Arizona and the Arizona Center for Disability Law, which was also a plaintiff in the case.
“The Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project is honored to receive this generous funding from Perkins Coie to support a Legal Director position for two years,” said Lauren Dasse, executive director of the Florence Project. “The Florence Project values our long history with Perkins Coie, working with its attorneys on pro bono cases, and we thank Perkins Coie for its commitment to justice.”
“The Florence Project is the only organization in Arizona that provides free legal services to detained immigrant men, women and children,” Dasse said. “We are thrilled to receive funding for a Legal Director position, which will allow us to deepen our advocacy and widen our impact. The Legal Director will handle the most challenging legal cases, strategic appeals and national legal advocacy initiatives with partner organizations. The position will mentor Florence Project staff on complicated cases and offer trainings to the community on various legal issues. Our staff members are experts in deportation defense, complex ‘crim-immigration’ analysis and asylum/fear-based claims. With the Legal Director position, we plan to bring appeals to the 9th Circuit, something we are not able to do without the support of Perkins Coie.”
Perkins Coie will also fund an existing staff attorney position at the ACLU of Arizona.
“Perkins Coie has been an indispensable partner to the ACLU of Arizona for many years,” said Alessandra Soler, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona. “The firm’s lawyers have taken the lead on tough cases, never hesitating to fight for the protection of Arizonans’ fundamental civil liberties. But our clients are not the only ones to benefit from the experience and dedication of Perkins Coie’s litigators. Young lawyers working at the ACLU of Arizona have learned the essentials of their craft from the mentoring and guidance of Perkins Coie partners and associates. We’re extremely grateful that the firm has decided to further support the leadership development and training of public interest lawyers with this generous donation.”
In addition to funding these public interest attorneys, Perkins Coie will use its portion of the money recovered in the Parsons case to fund other public service initiatives, including funding a fellow in the San Francisco Bay Area through Equal Justice Works, a public interest law program. Funds not donated to nonprofit organizations will be funneled back into the firm’s pro bono program.
In 2014, Perkins Coie lawyers donated more than 60,600 hours of pro bono service firmwide.