Last week, we reported that county jail personnel were denying inmates access to their attorneys. Only those lawyers who were representing them on criminal matters could meet with them. Both the U.S. Constitution and Florida allow prisoners the right to legal counsel. Florida law makes no distinction whether that counsel must only be criminal.
For criminal attorneys like Gene Mitchell, the new restriction impacts their ability to help those in jail. He explained to the Independent News over the phone yesterday morning that oftentimes a family will ask him to visit a loved one in the jail and for him to take his case. The new restriction – which went into effect mid-week – prevents him from representing the inmate, a clear violation of the law.
Mitchell was denied access to inmates at both the Escambia County Road Camp and its work release center. Both times jail personnel cited an internal memo for their justification. They would not allow the attorney to read the memo or even tell him who signed it. His request for a copy –the document is a public record –was also denied.
The attorney did email County Attorney Alison Rogers who said she would look into it, but there appeared to be no rush to deal with it until Monday.
Attorney James Barnes contacted the paper via Facebook. He and his partner have had a similar problem.
“Yesterday, my law partner, Kevin Hausfeld and I were contacted by 22 inmates that are currently being held at the County Road Camp. These inmates got our name from an existing client of ours that we represent with regard to the jail explosion. The callers wished to discuss with us representing them, again, with regard to the jail explosion and representing them on their pending criminal case.
Today, Kevin and I went to the road prison to meet with these 22 inmates. Yesterday, we faxed notice to the road prison that we were coming today and we provided all of the callers names.
Sadly and shockingly, we were turned away and denied access to these inmates. We were told that unless we were already the “Attorney of Record” than we could not see any of the 22.
I have been practicing law in this town for 24 years and I was Bill Eddins law partner for 9 years. I have never been denied access to any jail or to the road prison. Many times, people will contact me and request I come to the jail and I then visit them at the jail, of course, prior to me being their “Attorney of Record”.
What occurred today is a clear violation of the inmates constitutional rights. It is also Tortious Interference with a Business Practice.
Lt. Sims specifically denied us access. In doing so, he claimed that he was acting on Orders from County Attorney, Allison Rogers. The News Journal contacted Ms Rogers moments ago and she denied any knowledge of the subject matter and the denial of access.”
The Independent News, News Journal and several attorneys have made public record requests for the memo. Stay tuned.