SCHICK CERTIFIES SC INMATE LAWSUIT AS A CLASS ACTION
Updated: Jun 17, 2020
State Supreme Court Justice Stephan Schick has certified a New York Civil Liberties Union petition for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of inmates at the Sullivan County Jail as a class action.
According to a source with knowledge of the case, that means that at least 42 inmates would be included in the new class. The source noted that if the New York Civil Liberties Union prevails in the case, it leaves a window open to the possibility that more than half of the current inmate population could ultimately be released from this particular jail due to concerns over the spread of coronavirus and the potential for inmates' health to deteriorate further.
The SullivanTimes has also learned that, aside from the 68 inmates who were moved on June 3 into the new facility, an additional 15 inmates - mostly who were previously incarcerated in Delaware County Jail - are now also housed at the $101 million facility on Old Route 17.
"I've given the matter a lot of thought and I've read all of the arguments and briefs submitted by the petitioner and respondents and I do find, firstly, that I'm going to certify this as a class action, based upon the criteria set forth in the statute and the decision cited by the petitioner from the Court of Appeals and a statute that was changed," Schick said today in announcing his decision during a virtual hearing with the parties.
The NYCLU petition, filed on May 29, was brought to seek the release of certain medically vulnerable inmates arising out of the coronavirus pandemic.
County Attorney MIchael McGuire questioned the court about what legal standards should apply to the case since the pandemic is unprecedented.
NYCLU senior attorney Philip Desgranges said during the hearing today that the Sheriff's Office has violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the inmates. He agreed with McGuire that the new jail does not have the same poor sanitary conditions as the former facility and therefore those issues would not be included in the lawsuit moving forward.
Schick asked Desgranges to prepare an order to the court regarding the class action in the next few days as new court date in the case has been scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on June 26 and again, on June 29, at the same starting time.
"Respondents have been deliberately indifferent to the serious medical needs of medically vulnerable people in the Sullivan County Jail in two ways," Desgranges wrote in NYCLU's memorandum of law in support of the petition for habeas corpus that was filed with the court yesterday (Monday). " First, respondents have failed to take reasonable measures to protect medically vulnerable people in the jail from contracting the virus, and in some ways, the Sheriff Office has increased the risk of infection. Second, respondents have failed to take reasonable measures to provide adequate medical care for medically vulnerable people who contract or will contract the virus to prevent their degeneration, extreme pain, or death."
At the moment, it will again be a virtual hearing but Schick's staff was intending to seek clarification from Albany about whether in-court sessions will be permitted at that time.
As part of the legal filings, an affirmation from Dr. Homer Venters - who visited the new jail with Desgranges last Friday - described "systematic deficiencies" in the medical care provided to inmates even after the move into the new facility.
That affirmation, which harshly criticized the Sheriff's Office, was posted earlier today at www.sullivantimes.com.
In recent weeks, The SullivanTimes has interviewed three inmates from G Block (in the old jail) who tested positive for Covid-19 and who said they were experiencing symptoms that included chest pains, difficulty breathing and rashes. Each said that many of their calls for medical care in recent weeks were largely ignored by jail officials.
One of those inmates, James Konidis, was taken to Catskill Regional Medical Center on Monday, June 15 and returned to the facility.
Below is a PDF file of NYCLU's memorandum of law in support of the verified petition for a write of habeas corpus.