ACLU v. Vallario

Criminal Justice | Freedom of Expression & Religion | Racial Justice
Case No. 06-cv-1197, United States District Court, District of Colorado
ACLU Case No. 2006-08


In June, 2006, ACLU attorneys traveled to Glenwood Springs, Colorado to investigate prisoners’ complaints about abusive practices in the Garfield County Jail. (The practices under investigation are the subject of a separate class action lawsuit, Vandehey v. Vallario, filed in July, 2006). ACLU attorneys reviewed documents requested under the Colorado open records laws and planned to interview prisoners who had written to the ACLU. ACLU staff attorney Taylor Pendergrass was prevented from interviewing several prisoners, however, because Sheriff Lou Vallario, in anticipation of the ACLU’s visit, invented a new “policy” to govern attorney interviews with prisoners. Pursuant to that policy, when an attorney asks to speak with a prisoner, a deputy asks the prisoner “Who is your attorney?” If the prisoner responds with the name of his criminal defense attorney rather than the ACLU, the interview is denied. Based on this new “policy,” Mr. Pendergrass was prevented from speaking with three prisoners on June 15, 2006.

In a meeting with ACLU attorneys and the Assistant Garfield County Attorney on June 15, 2006, Sheriff Vallario defended his “policy” and told ACLU lawyers that if they disagreed, they should file a lawsuit and “let the judge decide.” The lawsuit was filed the following week in federal district court in Denver. It seeks nominal damages for Mr. Pendergrass as well as declaratory and injunctive relief. After a brief hearing, the court denied the ACLU’s motion for a temporary restraining order on June 28, 2006.
The ACLU subsequently withdrew this lawsuit. The legal challenge to the jail’s policy regarding attorney visits is included in the class action filed later in 2006, Vandehey v. Vallario.


John Phillips
Mark Silverstein , ACLU of Colorado Legal Director

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