PHOENIX — Lawyers who filed a lawsuit challenging the quality of health care in Arizona's prisons are seeking $1.6 million in additional legal fees and other costs in enforcing a 2014 settlement that they say the state has repeatedly resisted.
The request filed Friday comes after attorneys representing the 34,000 inmates in state prisons have already been awarded $6.1 million in litigation costs since they filed the lawsuit in March 2012.
The state paid $4.9 million to the prisoners' lawyers after settling the lawsuit in October 2014 and agreeing to improve inmate care. They were awarded another $1.2 million for their efforts through July 2017 in enforcing the terms of the settlement after Corrections Director Charles Ryan was found to be in civil contempt of court and the state was fined for failing to adequately improve care for prisoners.
Though a magistrate judge ordered the state in June to pay the $1.2 million, attorneys for the prisoners haven't yet received that money. The state is appealing the decision to cover the costs.
Lawyers for the prisoners say the latest request covers their enforcement efforts for the one-year period ending on June 30. The attorneys say they rightfully earned such fees because they had to repeatedly complain in court that the state wasn't complying with some of the changes to inmate care that it promised to make when it agreed to the settlement.
"All of plaintiffs' time and expenses during the 2017-18 enforcement period were directed toward demonstrating defendants' noncompliance with the stipulation (settlement) and obtaining the contempt findings and associated remedies," the prisoners' lawyers said in court records.
Andrew Wilder, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Corrections, declined to comment on the latest fee request.
The lawsuit alleged that Arizona's 10 state-run prisons didn't meet the basic requirements for providing adequate medical and mental health care. It said some prisoners complained that their cancer went undetected or that they were told to pray to be cured after begging for treatment.
It also alleged that the failure of the medical staff at one prison to diagnose an inmate's metastasized cancer resulted in his liver enlarging so much that his stomach swelled to the size of a pregnant woman at full term. Another inmate who had a history of prostate cancer had to wait more than two years for a biopsy.
The state denied allegations that it was providing inadequate care. The lawsuit was settled in 2014 without the state acknowledging any wrongdoing.
When finding Ryan in contempt of court this summer, then-U.S. Magistrate Judge David Duncan also imposed a $1.4 million fine against the state based on its acknowledgment that it had more than 1,400 instances in December, January and February during which it failed to make the improvements they promised to make when settling the case.
In addition to agreeing to pay $4.9 million in the 2014 settlement, the agreement also said the state would cover attorney fees and other costs — which would be determined by a judge — if the prisoners' lawyers asked a judge to enforce any aspect of the settlement and they prevailed in such disputes.
The latest fee request seeks to compensate two legal advocacy groups representing inmates, the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project and the Prison Law Office.