The ACLU of Ohio Foundation was contacted by Staughton and Alice Lynd to consider filing a lawsuit on behalf of prisoners that had previously been involved in the 1993 uprising at the Lucasville maximum-security prison. The lawsuit challenges the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction’s (“ODRC”) policy that denies inperson media access to prisoners convicted of crimes stemming from the Lucasville uprising. ODRC has cited “security” concerns as the basis for denying access to the media, although it appeared that these security concerns were a pretext and, actually, the real motive was to punish the prisoners who were involved in the Lucasville uprising. The Lucasville uprising marked its 21st anniversary and a number of media sources have expressed an interest in interviewing the prisoners that were involved. Five of the prisoners engaged in hunger strikes to protest ODRC’s refusal allow them in-person interviews with the media.
The level of violence is low at the Lucasville prison in comparison with other prisons, and there does not appear to be any safety reason for denying media access to the prisoners. The practice of prohibiting interviews with the prisoners involved in the Lucasville uprising can only be valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests. Once prison security has been accomplished, a prison inmate retains those First Amendment rights that are not inconsistent with his status as a prisoner or with the legitimate penological objectives of the corrections system.
The policy prohibiting in-person media access to prisoners involved in the Lucasville riots appears to discriminate based on the content of the interview. A number of death-sentenced prisoners who were not involved in the Lucasville riots have been granted in-person interviews by the media, while the prisoners involved in the Lucasville uprising have been denied similar access. Comments in the press by ODRC representatives have indicated that their reasons for denying media access to the prisoners include the fact “that the five would bring up prison conditions such as overcrowding that led to the 1993 riot or try to elicit sympathy for being held in a super maximum security prison.” Under these circumstances, it appears that ODRC is discriminating against the prisoners based on the content of their speech in violation of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
We represented four media plaintiffs and five prisoner plaintiffs. We filed our Complaint in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio on December 9, 2013. We were assigned Judge Sargus. The ODRC’s answer was filed on March 17, 2014. On March 18, ODRC filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.
We filed our response to ODRC’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings on April 9, 2014. Subsequently, on April 22, 2014, we filed an unopposed motion to postpone a pre-trial conference until 30 days after the court rules on ODRC’s Motion on the Pleadings. On April 23, 2014, the Motion to postpone the pre-trial conference was granted, and ODRC filed its Reply to our opposition to its Motion on the Pleadings.
On March 31, 2015, Judge Sargus denied ODRC’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. On May 1, 2015, we filed an agreed motion to reschedule a preliminary pretrial conference from May 11, 2015 to mid-June. The court continued the conference to June 15, 2015.
On June 12, 2015, Plaintiffs filed a Notice of Substitution, and we withdrew as counsel for this matter.