In 1978, indigent Oregon prisoners sued state officials in U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, alleging that inadequate legal facilities restricted their constitutional right of access to the courts. That suit was settled by consent decree in 1978 requiring accessible law libraries, and ...
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In 1978, indigent Oregon prisoners sued state officials in U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, alleging that inadequate legal facilities restricted their constitutional right of access to the courts. That suit was settled by consent decree in 1978 requiring accessible law libraries, and trained prisoner paralegals. One of the provisions retained jurisdiction for the Court, in order to determine whether the state provided sufficient funds to the plaintiff's counsel, Prisoners' Legal Services of Oregon (PLSO), to insure general legal services to inmates in Oregon.
In 1979, the Court (Judge Robert Clinton Belloni) granted a temporary restraining order, requiring defendants to fund PLSO to the extent necessary to meet the constitutional minimum of legal services needed for the meaningful access to the courts. In 1980, the Court (Judge Belloni) approved a contract between the defendants and PLSO providing for 9 months funding, and cooperation in a study of inmate legal needs by the ABA as well as long-term implementation of provision for these needs. Defendants offered a contract for 1981-83 with PLSO but required legislative approval; PLSO refused the legislative approval stipulation, and defendants withdrew the contract. PLSO then petitioned the Court for enforcement of the consent decree. The Court (Judge Helen Jackson Frye) treated defendant's response as a request for modification of the decree. The Court (Judge Frye) found that the purposes of the decree (constitutionally compliant access to courts) had been accomplished regardless of PLSO's continued service in the area. Judge Frye modified the decrees to include only the libraries and paralegals, and then terminated jurisdiction and dismissed the action.
PLSO appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which found the funding provision ambiguous. On August 20, 1981, the Court (Judge Eugene Allen Wright) remanded to District Court for determination whether there was an undertaking to fund legal services in the consent decree. Washington v. Penwell, 661 F.2d 943 (9th Cir. 1981). On remand, the District Court (Judge Frye) determined there was an undertaking, but the provision requiring such undertaking was unenforceable because the defendants lacked authority to bind the state to such a substantial fiscal obligation. PLSO again appealed to the Ninth Circuit.
On March 3, 1983, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Judge Wright) affirmed the District Court's opinion. The Court reasoned that the district court had no authority to enter an involuntary decree requiring state officials to do more than the minimum needed to conform to federal (Constitutional) law. Washington v. Penwell, 700 F.2d 570 (9th Cir. 1983). This effectively ended the District Court's jurisdiction over the matter and enforced the dismissal.Greg Venker - 05/21/2006