Arizona Corrections Director Charles Ryan is appealing a ruling that found him in civil contempt of court and fined the state $1.4 million for failing to adequately improve health care for inmates.
Ryan’s lawyers also are trying to undo another adverse ruling in the case by U.S. Magistrate Judge David Duncan, who repeatedly criticized the state’s efforts to comply with a settlement in a lawsuit over inmate care and handed down the contempt ruling a day before retiring from the federal bench.
Attorneys for the embattled prisons chief said in a one-sentence filing Saturday that he planned to appeal the June 22 contempt decision. The state’s appellate brief is due in late October.
Ryan’s lawyers also are asking the lower-court judge who replaced Duncan in the case to free the state of its responsibilities to measure parts of the settlement that the state contends it’s complying with.
“It is the court’s role to enforce the stipulation (the settlement) as agreed by the parties, not to redesign it or expand it,” Ryan’s lawyers wrote in a document filed July 20.
Duncan had previously denied the state’s request to free itself of some of those duties and instead ordered the appointment of an expert to review the state’s monitoring of its compliance. In the past, Duncan has questioned the accuracy of the state’s reports about how it is faring in making the changes.
“The legal standard is really high to get an order set aside, and they really didn’t make the case,” said Corene Kendrick, an attorney representing the prisoners. “They are just rehashing the case they made before (and) badmouthing Judge Duncan.”
The $1.4 million fine was based on the state’s acknowledgement that it had more than 1,400 instances in December, January and February during which it failed to make the improvements that it had promised to make when it settled the case.
The 2012 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 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.
Gov. Doug Ducey, who is Ryan’s boss, has expressed confidence in his corrections director after he was found to be in contempt of court. The governor has said he wants state agency directors, not judges, to run their departments.
Corizon, the health care provider for Arizona’s prisons for the last five years, isn’t a named target of the lawsuit. But the company has defended itself by saying it has put significant effort into meeting the settlement’s terms and has steadily improved compliance.