The District of Columbia has agreed to pay $6.2 million to settle allegations the city had a practice of holding inmates at the D.C. Jail past their release date and of wrongfully strip searching inmates who were supposed to be released.
The settlement, if approved, would end nearly eight years of litigation. U.S. District Senior Judge Royce Lamberth found in 2011 the city violated inmates' constitutional rights, although not during the whole time period the plaintiffs alleged. Absent a settlement, the case would go to trial over how much the city owed in damages.
Lawyers for the city and the class today asked Lamberth to give preliminary approval to the settlement. Class members will have an opportunity to file objections before any final deal.
The lawsuit claimed the D.C. Department of Corrections had a practice of failing to release inmates when their prison time expired and of strip searching inmates who were supposed to be released but were instead returned to the jail for processing.
Under the proposed settlement, class members with valid claims against the city for over-detention or strip searches would receive a share of $2.9 million. The city agreed to pay $475,000 to improve inmate processing at the D.C. Jail and nearly $2.5 million in plaintiffs' legal fees and costs. The remaining settlement funds would be used to pay for class administration and separate payments for the lead plaintiffs.
If Lamberth approves the settlement, the city will have paid more than $18 million to resolve claims of over-detention and unconstitutional strip searches at the D.C. Jail. In 2006, Lamberth approved a $12 million settlement for alleged violations of inmates' rights between 2002 and 2005.
Both sides scored victories in the latest lawsuit, Barnes v. District of Columbia, which was filed in Washington federal district court in 2006. Lamberth found the city liable for unconstitutional strip searches after 2005 and for over-detention between 2005 and 2006. In March, a jury sided with the city on claims of over-detention between 2007 and 2008; Lamberth previously granted the city summary judgment on claims of over-detentions after 2008.
A lead attorney for the class, local solo practitioner William Claiborne III, today called the case a "hard-fought battle." He credited city officials with taking steps in recent years to fix the problems that gave rise to the previous lawsuits.
"I think the District's hard work and our lawsuit—a combination of the two—really helped to achieve reform of the system that really benefits everyone who gets arrested in the District of Columbia," he said.
Solo practitioner Ralph Robinson and Barrett Litt of Kaye, McLane, Bednarski & Litt in Pasadena, Calif., also served as lead class co-counsel.
A spokesman for the city's Office of the Attorney General declined to comment. A representative of the Department of Corrections was not immediately available for comment.