Ropes & Gray Pro Bono Team Successfully Settles Former Rikers Island Inmate’s Civil Rights Claim
The Prisoners’ Rights Project of the New York Legal Aid Society brought the case to the attention of Ropes & Gray after the client filed a pro se claim against defendants in New York and Connecticut alleging constitutional violations in connection with his 2008 confinement and extradition. After taking the case, the Ropes & Gray team discovered that the client had been held much longer past his release date than was initially believed and that, for much of that time, personnel at the New York City Department of Correction knew or should have known the client was being held unlawfully. With access to the client’s account, his Department of Correction file, and the Department’s own policies and directives, the Ropes & Gray team was able to identify numerous occasions on which the Department failed to comply with its own rules for calculating jail time and for releasing inmates who had finished serving their sentences. The team then filed an amended complaint alleging that the Department violated the United States Constitution by failing to release the client and that law enforcement officers in Connecticut shared responsibility for the deprivation. The case settled in June for $95,000.
John Boston, director of the Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project, said that "[t]his case is a small but perfect example of how law firms' pro bono activities can serve the administration of justice. This case had multiple technical problems that would have made it unwinnable for a pro se plaintiff, but once capable counsel appeared, the defendants' exposure became clear, and the plaintiff obtained meaningful compensation for an egregious violation of constitutional rights."