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Judge denies order against sheriff

Post Independent/Kelley Cox
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DENVER – U.S. District Judge Walker Miller Wednesday denied the American Civil Liberties Union’s request for an emergency restraining order against Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario. The ACLU asked Miller to prevent Vallario and his deputies from limiting attorneys’ access to inmates at the Garfield County Jail. The current policy requires jailors to ask an inmate who his/her attorney is or what organization he or she is seeking legal representation from before an attorney can meet with an inmate. The ACLU is investigating allegations of inmate abuse at the jail.

ACLU staff worried that if an inmate who wrote the ACLU for legal assistance doesn’t know how to answer the “trick” question, or answers with the name of his/her criminal defense attorney, ACLU staff won’t be allowed to meet with the inmate confidentially and in person. In denying the ACLU’s request for a restraining order, Miller said Wednesday that though there was some “bureaucratic arrogance at work” on the part of both Vallario and the ACLU, ACLU lawyer Mark Silverstein had not shown “clear and unequivocal evidence” to prove the group’s claim. Miller added that there’s no evidence to show that the ACLU lawyers are being treated differently than any other lawyers who want to meet with inmates at the jail. Silverstein said after Miller’s ruling that the ACLU’s work will continue despite Miller’s refusal to grant a restraining order.

“Some prisoners know the answer to the trick question,” he said. “We’re going to continue investigating.”During oral arguments, Silverstein claimed that while three inmates they wish to meet with knew the “magic words” to the question, “Who is your lawyer?”, other inmates wishing to meet with the ACLU may not know how to answer the question, preventing a meeting from taking place. “We don’t know what the policy is going to be tomorrow,” Silverstein said. “It’s changed three times in the last couple of weeks.”Miller earlier questioned the legitimacy of the policy change because the policy was oral. The original policy allowed any lawyer with the proper credentials to meet with any inmate without requiring deputies to ask an inmate who his/her attorney is.



But because the ACLU had not attempted to meet with inmates after the jail’s policy had been changed and immediately requested a restraining order from Miller, the “plaintiff doesn’t even present to me a situation where they’ve been denied access (to inmates),” Miller said, adding later, “I have a sense that they (the jail staff) were trying to work with you.”The ACLU and Garfield County Jail staff should work together before the group takes any more legal action, Miller said, imploring them to be rational. Miller’s ruling ended hours of argument over two days in the case, during which Silverstein compared his right to meet confidentially with inmates to that of book publishers to reach an audience in jails and prisons. Publishers can challenge jail regulations in order to distribute media to inmates, he said. But Miller dismissed Silverstein’s argument because Silverstein couldn’t find a legal precedent showing that publishers’ rights to reach inmates in jail applies to this case.


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