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Judge rules for media in prison case challenge

BOISE – A federal judge has sided with a coalition of 17 Idaho news organizations, including The Spokesman-Review, in denying a request by the state’s only private prison contractor to seal whatever it wants in a lawsuit brought by a group of inmates at the prison.

U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge issued an order Tuesday that significantly scales back a broad protection order sought by the Corrections Corporation of America, which operates the Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise.

Earlier this year, CCA attorneys sought discretion to seal a wide range of court documents, records and statements produced in a lawsuit filed by eight inmates attacked by a prison gang. The Nashville, Tenn.-based company argued the protective order was essential to hide certain information from public view for security, privacy and proprietary reasons.

A group of Idaho newspapers and one television station objected, filing a motion to intervene in the case in June urging Lodge to reject the company’s proposal because it undermines the public’s right to know and the ability of journalists to report on the ongoing lawsuit.

In his decision, Lodge recognized the “profound public interest in access to court records.” Lodge also granted a protection order for certain documents, but his version sets specific rules and criteria for how secrecy will apply in the case.

“I am very pleased with the clarity he has brought to the situation,” said Chuck Brown, the Lewiston attorney representing the media group, which also included the Associated Press, Idaho Statesman and Coeur d’Alene Press, among others. “He has set forth a defined procedure that must be followed by the parties if they desire to have anything filed under seal. His opinion and the language of his order doesn’t shrink away from openness, and as a matter of fact is a significant step toward ensuring openness of the judicial system.”

Steven Owen, spokesman for CCA, said the company is satisfied with the decision and protections put in place by Lodge.

“As we read the order, the judge took our concerns into account and issued an order that provides appropriate protection for the sensitive information that is included in this litigation,” Owen said.

The lawsuit centers around the complaints of eight ICC inmates who claim chronic understaffing and mismanagement led to an attack in which they were jumped, beaten, stabbed and slashed by members of an inmate gang. CCA has denied those allegations.

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