The Trial Lawyer Fall 2017 - Page 92

PUBLIC JUSTICE TRIAL LAWYER OF THE YEAR AWARD FINALISTS SHOW WHY ACCESS TO THE COURTS AND CLASS ACTIONS ARE SO IMPORTANT By Arthur Bryant Chairman, Public Justice Throughout America, government officials and corporate wrongdoers are working to shut down access to the courts and limit or eliminate class actions. Why? Because the courts are often the only place they can be held accountable. And, when they’re hurting, cheating, or violating the rights of large numbers of people, class actions are often the only thing their victims can use to get justice. This year’s four finalists for Public Justice’s nationally prestigious Trial Lawyer of the Year Award make that clear. In each case, government officials or corporate wrongdoers were breaking the law and hurting the poor and the powerless — prisoners, minorities, low- income consumers, or the disabled. In each case, lawsuits were the only way to make them stop. And, in each case, unlike in many past years, a class action was essential for justice to be done. The Trial Lawyer of the Year Award is given annually to the lawyers who made the greatest contribution to the public good by trying or settling a case. This year’s finalists, who brought the cases listed below, were honored — and 90 x The Trial Lawyer the winner was announced — in July at Public Justice’s Awards Dinner & Gala at the Fairmont Copley Park in Boston. If you want to understand why access to the courts and class actions are so important, just read the case summaries below. Decoteau v. Raemisch & Anderson v. Colorado In 2010, represented by law students at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law Civil Rights Clinic and co- counsel from the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC), Colorado State Penitentiary inmate Troy Anderson filed suit against the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC), alleging the lack of outdoor exercise space violated the Constitution. Anderson had been held in solitary confinement for ten years. Like others in solitary confinement at CSP, he had only been permitted to exercise in a small cell with a narrow slit window covered by a metal grate that opened to the outdoors. Anderson’s case was tried and the court ruled that CDOC’s policies constituted cruel and unusual punishment, prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. Anderson was moved to a second facility, but that facility didn’t provide a chance for outdoor exercise either. Anderson’s attorneys got the judge to find the second facility inadequate, too. Only then, in 2012, was Anderson allowed to exercise outside. After that, instead of providing the same outdoor exercise privileges to other inmates, CDOC took the position that the judge’s ruling applied only to Anderson. So, in 2013, Anderson’s team filed a class action on behalf of all inmates in solitary confinement at CSP. The class was certified in July 2014 over CDOC’s objections and the case proceeded towards trial, with CDOC fighting for years. Finally, on the eve of trial, CDOC requested mediation and both sides reached an agreement — approved by the court in July 2016 — requiring CDOC to construct three new outdoor exercise yards at CSP and ensuring that inmates would finally have access to regular outdoor exercise.