When attorney Aaron Kinikini went to see his client at the Utah State Prison, warden Alfred Bigelow refused him access. Now, Kinikini is suing the Draper prison to let him meet with an inmate.
Suing on behalf of inmate Jeremy Haas, the Disability Law Center has filed a civil-rights action against Bigelow and Utah Department of Corrections Director Tom Patterson—who today announced that he'll resign from his post in January—along with a temporary-restraining-order motion seeking Kinkin's immediate access to Haas.
Haas was one of four inmates with mental-health diagnoses being held in solitary confinement who City Weekly featured in a story called "Lost in the Hole" in late September.
The lawsuit stems from a Sept. 14, 2012, visit to the prison by Kinikini and fellow DLC attorney Laura Boswell to meet with Haas over concerns about his treatment in the prison. Under federal statute, according to the lawsuit, DLC can conduct abuse and neglect investigations in the prison.
But Bigelow refused Kinikini access because he had two misdemeanor convictions on his record, namely a possession and a DUI charge dating back from 2008. When the attorneys asked what was the legal basis for not letting Kinikini in, given that he was licensed to practice law by the Utah State Bar and the Utah Supreme Court, Bigelow told them, according to the lawsuit, "that he was merely enforcing an 'unwritten practice' of USP and the Utah Department of Corrections."
Prison PIO Steve Gerhke said that, per prison policy, the UDC does not comment on pending litigation.
While attorney Boswell was allowed to visit with Haas and see his living conditions, Kinikini, who was selected by Haas to represent him, sat outside in the parking, awaiting her return. Barring Haas access to his attorney violated his constitutional rights, the DLC motion argues.
The lawsuit hypothesizes that Bigelow barring Kinikini, a protege of recently deceased civil rights attorney Brian Barnard, reflected an apparently "unwritten" regulation designed to deter inmates from being visited by people who might pose a security risk.
"When applied to Haas and his attorney, Kinikini, this practice is nothing more than an exaggerated, possibly discriminatory, response to generic prison-security concerns," the lawsuit stated.
With the prison chronically underfunded and understaffed, Kinikini notes in an e-mail, "for running, what is, in essence, the largest in-patient mental-health institution in the state," the correction facility's focus on "guns, barbed wire and guards" implies that there will not be any change to the alarming conditions inmates like Haas have to endure until funding is found to improve the situation.
And funding won't come, Kinikini argues, until "somebody can prove that the status quo is unconstitutional."