Civil rights clinic sues to get access to prisoner clients

Daniel Manville said he has had just about enough. As the director of the Civil Rights Clinic at Michigan State University, he has to travel from the Metro area to Western Michigan to the far west side of the Upper Peninsula in order to meet with clients.

That’s hard enough.

But when he started hearing that prisons were going to shorten the hours during which attorneys could meet with clients, and that some were not going to provide private meeting space for confidential conversations, Manville said that burden was too much.

He said he first had a problem when he was visiting a prison in Adrian. He was told then that he couldn’t use a private conference room to meet with his client.

“The woman working the desk said, ‘We don’t have a key for that room,’ but that’s just ludicrous,” Manville said. The captain produced a key, but when he couldn’t track down an officer to provide personal protection for Manville, the meeting had to take place with the door open.

Manville didn’t make much of it, and wrote off the experience as a fluke. But then he visited another prison, where he was told that there would no longer be visiting hours on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, even for attorneys.

That’s unworkable, he said.

So he’s suing the director of the Michigan Department of Corrections, and wardens at three prisons. He filed Monday in the Eastern District.

“All I am asking for is for them to be reasonable, which is in some cases asking a lot of the Department of Corrections,” Manville said. “In more than 20 years I have never had a problem with being able to meet with a client. It’s getting to be unreasonable.”

Manville said that he was told that budget cutbacks have caused the prisons to shorten visiting hours.

Among the other named plaintiffs are attorneys Gerald Lorence, Craig Davis, Dory Baron, Lee Somerville and Nick Suciu. The case is Civil Rights Clinic, et al. v. Washington, et al.

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Constitutional rights for all, including those who can’t afford them

Today is “Constitution Day,” a day that we take note of the 220th anniversary of this remarkable document, along with the rights it provides and responsibilities it imposes.

Civil rights for everyone

Richard McLellan: rights for everyone

Today is also the day that East Lansing attorney Richard McLellan, writing in The Lansing State Journal, has appropriately pointed out a sad truth: when it comes to discharging the constitutional duty to ensure that indigent criminal defendants receive effective assistance of counsel, the state government has failed spectacularly.

McLellan has the credentials to make this indictment. He’s the chair of the Michigan Law Revision Committee, a member of the State Bar’s Public Policy Committee, and a former co-chair of the bar’s Justice Initiatives Committee.

And he’s got the data to make his case. A study of 10 counties’ public defender systems released earlier this year by the National Legal Aid & Defender Association concluded that not one of them was providing constitutionally adequate representation to criminal defendants who couldn’t afford to hire an attorney. In some counties, the picture isn’t pretty at all.

McLellan comments:

NLADA’s extensive report, originally requested by the Legislature, provides the state with an opportunity to both protect the rights of citizens and use taxpayer dollars more efficiently. We currently spend $2 billion a year on prisons. By taking common sense steps to provide residents with an adequate legal defense we can not only keep innocent men and women out of jail, we can avoid wasting millions.

Let us use Constitution Day to commit ourselves and our state to fully embracing both the benefits and the obligations our law provides.

Hear, hear.