Arizona opposes request for fees in suit over inmate care
PHOENIX — Lawyers representing the state of Arizona in a class-action lawsuit challenging the quality of health care in its prisons are urging a judge to reject a request from opposing attorneys for $1.6 million in additional legal fees.
The state has already spent $15.3 million in the yearslong lawsuit, including $8.8 million for the attorneys defending Arizona prison officials, $5.7 million for the lawyers who pressed the civil case against the state and other costs, according to records from the Arizona Department of Corrections.
An additional $1.2 million was awarded to inmates' attorneys for their efforts through July 2017 in enforcing a settlement in the case after Corrections Director Charles Ryan was found to be in contempt of court for failing to adequately improve care for prisoners. But the $1.2 million award hasn't yet been paid because the state is appealing the decision.
Lawyers for the prisoners say the latest request for $1.6 million covers their enforcement efforts for the one-year period ending on June 30, including their efforts to get Ryan held in contempt. They say they rightfully earned such fees because they had to repeatedly complain in court that the state wasn't complying with some of the changes to inmate care that it promised to make when it agreed to the settlement.
Attorneys for the state say Arizona might be willing to pay some costs, but that opposing lawyers haven't shown that they prevailed in disputes over compliance with the settlement and haven't provided enough detail in billing records.
The lawsuit alleged that Arizona's 10 state-run prisons didn't meet the basic requirements for providing adequate medical and mental health care, saying some prisoners complained that their cancer went undetected or that they were told to pray to be cured after begging for treatment.
It also alleged that the failure of the medical staff at one prison to diagnose an inmate's metastasized cancer resulted in his liver enlarging so much that his stomach swelled to the size of a pregnant woman's belly at full term. Another inmate who had a history of prostate cancer had to wait more than two years for a biopsy.
The state denied allegations that it was providing inadequate care. The lawsuit was settled in 2014 without the state acknowledging any wrongdoing.
The state's attorneys say the settlement limits the amount of fees that lawyers for the inmates can seek. Under the settlement, the state paid $4.9 million in fees to the inmates' attorneys, plus another $806,000 to monitor compliance with the agreement.
"The stipulation (the settlement) cannot be rewritten to accommodate plaintiffs' buyers' remorse," attorneys for the state said in a court filing Friday.
The inmates' attorneys have said they are entitled to the latest fees and other requests as a remedy for the contempt ruling against Ryan, noting all their efforts during the last enforcement period were focused on showing the state's noncompliance with the settlement.
The state said the settlement doesn't allow the inmates' attorneys to seek fees associated with any contempt proceedings.
As part of the contempt ruling, a federal magistrate judge also fined the state $1.4 million this summer for failing to adequately improve care for prisoners.
The state paid the fine a week after it was imposed and was later reimbursed for that amount by Corizon Health Inc., the health care provider for Arizona's prisons for the last five years, according to records from the Department of Corrections.
The state's running $15.3 million price tag for the case doesn't include the fine amount.