- The Washington Times - Monday, September 3, 2001

Four Florida convicts turned the tables this weekend on officials who stemmed a tide of convict lawsuits by banning use of typewriters and computers in all the state's prisons.
Over state objections, Circuit Judge Nikki Ann Clark permitted the four inmates to file a class action that will apply to all 71,199 prisoners in 128 prisons and camps and those imprisoned later.
Corrections Secretary Michael W. Moore maintained that computers, word processors and typewriters were removed on May 10 to increase security and save money on printer supplies and maintenance.
The complaint filed in Tallahassee on Friday, however, said the real purpose was to choke off inmate lawsuits. It charged the state with "willful, intentional, calculated and systematic efforts to prevent Florida's prisoners from obtaining access to the courts."
"It was an intentional decision to pare back and do the very least they could get away with," said Tampa lawyer Robin Rosenberg, who is assisting the prisoners' case as part of her pro bono work at Holland & Knight law firm. She said funds for law libraries come from profits at inmate canteens, "so it's not like taking money from a prison guard's retirement fund."
The state also cut back on the number of law books available and removed sample forms for legal cases other than criminal convictions, she said.
"Clearly this, along with other things the state has done, shows they don't want prisoner complaints," Miss Rosenberg said.
Prison officials referred inquiries to Attorney General Bob Butterworth's office, where spokeswoman Trish Spillan said Friday, "We can't comment on the policy decisions of the Department of Corrections. Our job is to defend their actions."
In a June 28 letter responding to a critical Miami Herald editorial, Mr. Moore defended his actions, citing fears that prisoners abuse electronic equipment to forge prison documents, court orders or phony tax forms used to obtain fraudulent tax refunds.
"Our purpose is to protect the public. … I do and will continue to ensure the legal rights of inmates are protected," Mr. Moore wrote.
The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit is Gregory O. Henderson, 38, of Miami, who is serving 30 years at Avon Park Correctional Institution for sexual battery of a child.
Judge Clark permitted Henderson, who is trained and certified as an inmate law clerk in the prison law library, to file the case for himself and three other prisoners whom he assisted as part of his convict job.
Miss Rosenberg assisted in drawing the new complaint filed Friday, based on legal theories used in lawsuits filed earlier by Henderson in conjunction with the other three prisoners: Enrique Estrada, 27, serving 10 years for manslaughter; Robert L. Moore, 33, serving life for murder; and Jason E. Myers, 25, who got 25 years for grand theft and burglary.
"They have shown remarkable resourcefulness and willingness to bring the facts and issues to light for resolution by the court," Miss Rosenberg told the circuit court.
In an interview, she said their lawsuit focuses on inmates' property claims for years of research lost when the machines were disconnected, and on their rights to go to court to deal with marital or immigration matters, civil rights claims and civil matters, and criminal convictions they may wish to attack.
"Mr. Henderson's memory typewriter lost all its data when it was unplugged and put into storage," Miss Rosenberg said. "We believe the removal of computer equipment was just one step in a larger process in an attempt to limit inmate access to the courts."
While the state's ban on typewriters sparked a roaring barter business among inmate scribes with good handwriting, the accompanying loss of data was blamed for Henderson missing the filing deadline for a federal habeas corpus petition. It is also said to have prevented Estrada from challenging deportation proceedings. Moore's federal court brief was apparently rejected because he failed to comply with a filing deadline, and Myers lost the information needed to file a civil rights complaint.
Although federal courts hold that the U.S. Constitution requires only that prisoners be given a bare minimum of law books and materials, the new complaint says Florida's more permissive Constitution "grants greater rights to its citizens vis-a-vis access to the courts."

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