Published: November 27, 2012
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ST. CROIX - A federal judge has denied a Golden Grove prisoner's motion to intervene in a 26-year-old court battle between federal civil rights lawyers and the territory over conditions at the prison.
Ronald Gillette filed the motion to intervene in a case that has had Golden Grove Adult Correctional Facility operating under a federal consent decree for most of the last 26 years. If his motion had been granted, Gillette would have been able to enter the prison case as a third party and participate in the proceedings.
U.S. District Judge Wilma Lewis denied Gillette's motion earlier this month, finding that his motion was not timely; that his intervention would delay litigation and prejudice the parties; and that his intervention is unnecessary because federal civil rights lawyers adequately represent his interests.
Gillette has filed notice that he intends to appeal the decision.
Gillette, a prisoner who was convicted in 2008 of multiple counts of aggravated rape and unlawful sexual contact against two local children, filed the motion to intervene in the case in July. Gillette claims that as a prisoner in need of mental health services, he has a concrete, personal interest in the case and that his interests would be injured if the intervention were denied.
Gillette also claims that the existing parties in the lawsuit - the territory and the federal government - do not adequately represent Gillette's interests.
The territory and the U.S. Government both opposed the intervention.
Golden Grove has been operating under a consent decree that required the territory to clean up what federal civil rights lawyers contend are dangerous, unsanitary and unconstitutional conditions at the prison. In June 2011, the U.S. Justice Department asked the judge to appoint a receiver who would control all aspects of the prison's operations.
The territory first opposed appointing a receiver, and then asked the judge to terminate all the court orders pertaining to the consent decree, citing a section of the Prison Litigation Reform Act that it contended invalidated all the court-ordered remedies.
The court orders in the case have been on hold for more than a year now.
Lewis ruled earlier this year that most of them may be eligible for termination under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, but she had planned to have an evidentiary hearing to determine whether conditions at the prison are still unconstitutional and warrant court-ordered remedies.
However, the U.S. Department of Justice and the territory have since reached a proposed agreement that would settle their legal battle for control of the prison.
The 21-page proposed settlement agreement sets out myriad steps the territory must take to fix unconstitutional conditions at the prison and requires an independent monitor.
In her opinion about Gillette's motion, Lewis found that although Gillette does have an interest in conditions at the prison - an interest that will be affected by the outcome of the court case - he did not meet the other elements necessary to be granted status to intervene.
Lewis noted that the proceedings in the case already have "progressed to an advanced stage."
"The court is concerned that intervention at this late stage would significantly disrupt the proceedings in view of the current status of the litigation - including possibly derailing a proposed settlement of this matter that the parties have stated 'is the result of months of arms-long negotiation,'" Lewis wrote.
The judge also found that further delay would prejudice the parties.
"Gillette has not participated in this case over the last two-and-one-half decades, including, in particular, the extensive discovery and settlement negotiations which have been ongoing since July 2011," Lewis wrote. "To introduce him into the equation now would significantly delay the resolution of the case given the complexity of the issues and the substantial work done by the parties."
Lewis noted that the proposed settlement agreement addresses broad issues, including the alleged constitutional violations at the prison, the implementation of corrective measures, compliance monitoring and the enforcement and termination of the agreement.
"Gillette's intervention in this case would serve only to delay the conclusion of the litigation and the remediation of the prison conditions at Golden Grove," she wrote.
The judge also found that the U.S. adequately represents Gillette's interests in the case.
"In sum, the United States instituted this action and has been pursuing it diligently to ensure that all inmates at Golden Grove enjoy the constitutional protections to which they are entitled," she wrote. "There is simply no evidence that the United States does not adequately represent the interests of one inmate - Gillette - seeking the same relief."
- Contact Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.