Ann Arbor judge signs off on settlement for female inmates
Another 400 current or former female inmates filed claims for part of a $100 million settlement in the month since the state resolved allegations that prisoners were raped, groped and peeked at by male corrections staff, a lawyer said Thursday.
All told, more than 900 women are seeking money from the state for alleged sexual misconduct that occurred inside prisons between March 1993 and July 2009.
The development was disclosed Thursday as Washtenaw County Circuit Judge Timothy Connors gave final approval to the class-action settlement, despite complaints from some ex-inmates who won at trial and will get less under the settlement. Connors gave preliminary approval of the agreement July 15.
"I didn't know about the settlement agreement until after it was accepted," said Wendy Garagiola, 47, of Fowlerville, who said she was raped and sodomized by a guard at a Coldwater prison in the mid-1990s. "We're being told to settle for half of what the jury awarded us. I don't think it's fair at all."
Garagiola and at least two others out of 18 women who were awarded jury verdicts in 2008 came to the courthouse to raise concerns, but they could not speak to the judge because they missed an Aug. 14 deadline to file written objections. They said the settlement was good for attorneys but not necessarily victims.
The deadline to file for a piece of the settlement was also Aug. 14.
One woman at the court, who did not want to be named due to the nature of what she said happened to her in prison, said she and 17 other women who put themselves through the "public humiliation" of trial should not have been included in negotiations affecting hundreds of other women.
But Deborah Labelle, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, called the settlement fair, explaining that the jury verdicts were never guaranteed because they were in the appeals system when settlement talks began.
"It's a good thing to put hopefully this chapter behind," she said of lawsuits that date as far back as 13 years ago. "A hundred million dollars recognizes the kind of human rights violations that went on by the state. We have equitable relief that will go toward preventing this ever happening again."
Ten lawyers who worked on the case will get $28.7 million for more than 30,000 hours of work and future work administering the settlement, which will be paid between now and 2015. The remaining $71.3 million will be given to victims in three groups based on the severity and amount of abuse.
The 18 women who won verdicts at two trials will split $15.9 million — less than what they would have received under the verdicts. Including interest, the verdicts totaled more than $50 million, though it is unclear how much would have gone to attorneys. The plaintiffs' lawyers will decide who is eligible for the settlement and tell those who qualify their estimated payments. Letters must be mailed by Sept. 4.
Women who disagree with their damages have until Sept. 18 to appeal to a court-appointed claims master, Barbara Levine, executive director of the prisoner advocacy group Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending. Levine must issue a final decision on those appeals by Oct. 16. If a woman disagrees with Levine's ruling, she can then appeal to the judge by Oct. 30.
Connors plans to wrap up the case by the end of the year.
He said former and current prisoners should appreciate the "remarkable" effort by their attorneys. He said the settlement is in everyone's best interest, and he is glad juries "had a chance to speak out and give their view."