Golden Grove inmate files motion to unseal documents in ongoing prison civil rights case


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ST. CROIX - An inmate at Golden Grove Adult Correctional Facility is again trying to intervene in a decades-long court battle between federal civil rights lawyers and the territory over conditions at the prison.

Ronald Gillette - who initially tried to intervene in the prison reform case in 2012, only to be turned down by the judge - filed another motion earlier this month to intervene in the case, this time with an eye toward getting court documents that have been filed under seal in the case opened to the public.

"It's pretty clear that everyone has a First Amendment and common law right of access to the court, which includes everything filed with the court," said Joseph DiRuzzo III, Gillette's attorney.

The U.S. Justice Department has so far not taken a position on this motion. The territory has asked for - and received - additional time to respond.

If allowed to intervene, Gillette would be able to participate in the civil case over prison conditions as an interested third party in seeking a judge's order to unseal the documents.

Conditions at the prison violate the ban against cruel and unusual punishment contained in the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The U.S. Justice Department brought the civil lawsuit more than 27 years ago in an effort to force the territory into fixing conditions at the prison. Since then, the territory has been under various sets of court orders designed to force change at Golden Grove, but has repeatedly failed to follow the orders and has so far failed to bring the prison up to constitutional standards.

Gillette initially sought to intervene in the case in 2012, with DiRuzzo arguing that as a prisoner in need of mental health services, Gillette has a concrete, personal interest in the case, and that his interests would be injured if the intervention was denied.

He also argued that the existing parties in the lawsuit - the territory and the federal government - did not adequately represent Gillette's interests.

Both the territory and the U.S. government opposed that intervention.

U.S. District Judge Wilma Lewis ultimately denied Gillette's 2012 motion to intervene, finding that it was not timely, that his intervention would delay litigation and prejudice the parties, and that his intervention was unnecessary because federal civil rights lawyers adequately represented his interests.

This time, Gillette's motion to intervene is so he can "exercise his First Amendment and common-law claims that he, and the public, have access to the documents filed under seal," according to the motion DiRuzzo filed May 4.

In the motion, Gillette cites four different occasions since July 2011 when the U.S. Justice Department has asked for and received permission to file court documents under seal, three of them this year.

"The sealing orders granted in full the Federal Government's unopposed motions on the unsupported and unchallenged basis that it feared that the information contained sensitive information and/or would compromise the security of Golden Grove," Gillette's latest motion to intervene states.

"Gillette intervenes so that he can move to unseal these documents and show why the sealing of these exhibits, in circumstances here, is antithetical to the First Amendment and common law principles of open government," it goes on to say. "Indeed, independent of the outcome of this case, public access to judicial records remains vital to a transparent system of government."

The motion also notes that as a Golden Grove inmate, Gillette has "a concrete interest in the evidence and documents in this case" as it relates to the conditions of confinement at the prison.

Gillette was convicted in 2008 on multiple counts of aggravated rape and unlawful sexual contact against two children.

The territory has asked for more time to respond to the motion, which the judge has granted.

DiRuzzo would not comment on whether the information that he hopes to have unsealed might advance any other litigation Gillette might be considering.

"Irrespective of whether Mr. Gillette has a claim or is considering any additional lawsuits, the First Amendment is clear that he - along with everyone else - has a right to review these documents," DiRuzzo said.

- Contact Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or email jblackburn@dailynews.vi.

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