The Law Library just Another TDCJ Smokescreen?

By Jay Goodman

Dealing with the law is not an easy task, for one, it can be difficult to understand because there is not just one set of rules. There is state law and federal law, and for a person who has never dealt with the law-at all, walking into a law library and seeing hundreds of books, it’s an overwhelming experience needless to say. Even after you make. it to the law library and. begin your search 0 now comes the hard part, being able to decipher what you’re reading. Because for someone who has. never opened a law book, you might as well be trying to put a Chinese jigsaw puzzle together.

Let me start this chapter with a little back ground information on what the federal courts believe we should have, and what the Texas Department of Criminal Justice gives us.

The Supreme Court established that prisoners have a fundamental right to access the courts in a series of important cases, including EX Parte Hull, 312 U.S. 546 (1941), Johnson V. Avery, 383 U.S. 483(1969); and Bounds V. Smith, 4306 U.S. 817 (1977). This right allows you to file a section 1983 or Bivens Claim, Habeas Petitions, or to work on your criminal case. The right was fundamental at one point. It required a prison to fund for you, to have meaningful access to the courts. I’ll explain the ‘was’ part of this a little later.

Now, the right to access to the courts has one very serious limitation, that comes from a Supreme Court case called, Lewis V. Casey, 518 U.S. 343 (1996). This case states that a prisoner can- not claim he was denied his right of access to the court, unless he shows an “actual injury”. To show actual injury, you have to prove that prison officials or prison policy stopped you from being able to assert a “Non- Frivolous Claim”. To win, courts usually require you to show that you had a legitimate claim or case that you lost, or were unable to bring, due to some action by prison officials, or due to the inadequacy of your access to legal assistance. In Benjamin V. Kerik, 102 F. Supp. 2d 157 (S.D.N.Y. 2000), the court found actual injury, when a prisoner could not locate cases cited by defendants in the prison law library, and thus could not fully respond to his adversaries’ motion. The most common areas of litigation around court access include your right to; (1) Legal papers, and to seek and meet with lawyers and legal workers; (2) Get, reasonable access to law books; (3) Obtain legal help from other prisoners and; (4) Be free from retaliation based on legal activity.

Let’s take a look at what’s happened to our access to the courts. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice / Texas; decided to take out the Supreme Court digest. This was a cold calculated move by the state to restrict our access to the courts on the federal level. I remember when this took place. I asked the Law Library Supervisor, why they were taking them? The response I received was, “We can look-up whatever you need on the computer”. Ok, so how do we research what case we need without the help of the Supreme Court digest? “Well just be grateful we’re keeping the West’s Texas Digest 2nd for you.” As always it takes a few years before the effects of this scheme is felt. Even those of us who know how the law works, and tried to get ahead of this policy. No such luck, the Feds bought the computer access, hook, line, and sinker. What the Texas prison system. didn’t explain to the Feds is, it only gives us an opinion of a case, not the actual case. It cost too much to print all the paper: My friend had a full case printed off, Martinez V. Ryan, 132 S.C.T. 1309, L. Ed. 2d 272, 2012 U.S. Lexis 2317 - Court The case that was printed off for me by the inmate clerk. The actual case is really 15 pages front and back. When I showed the clerk this case, he told me it not up to me. So my friend asked the Law Library Supervisor, why the full case isn’t printed out? Of course, he was told, it is. Well, he said, “I’ll believe what I’m told, and not my lying eyes.” In bounds, it states if your prison decides to have a Law Library ‘to fulfill the requirements. Under bounds, you can then ask the question. Is the Law Library adequate? Books that should be available in Law Libraries; (1) Relevant State and Federal Statutes, (2) State and Federal Law, reporters from the past few decades, (3) Shepard’s Citations, and (4) Basic treaties on Habeas Corpus, prisoners’ civil rights, and criminal law. The sad part about Lewis T. Casey, you can’t sue over an inadequate Law Library unless it has hurt your Nan-Frivolous Lawsuit or Habeas Petition. This of course is a catch 22. How can someone who is newly incarcerated know what they need or don’t need if I cannot find it in the Law Library? Of course, the Texas prison system will point to its State Counsel for offender’s books, 1 of 2, and 2 of 2.

Of course, you’re on a time line when you’re fighting for your life. Very few people can become lawyers in a -year, but that’s what the feds ask of us with •the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), 110 stat, 1214, sets a one-year statute of limitations. So how many lawyers have graduated law school in a year? We have Bill Clinton to thank for that one. Only goes to show, he did inhale.

How do you find what you, need if you have no information? How many people would be lost without Google? Let’s look at board policy 03.81 rules governing offenders’ access to the courts, counsel and public officials. Policy: Every offender has the right to state and federal courts, legal counsel, public officials, and mission- The mission of the institutional division is to provide safe and appropriate confinement, supervision, rehabilitation, an reintegration of adult felons, and to effectively manage or administer correctional facilities based on constitutional and statutory standards. §499.102 (a)(12)-Staff determination and recommendations (a) The staff of the institutional division, on its own initiative or as directed by the Governor or the board, may recommend to the administration of the institutional division that the maximum capacity established under section 499.101 for a unit be increased if the staff determines through written findings that the division can increase the maximum capacity and provide: (12) Adequate assistance from persons trained in the law or a Law Library with a collection containing necessary materials and space adequate for inmates to use the law library for ,study related to legal matters.

I’m still holding my breath waiting for my adequate assistance. As if it’s not enough that we don’t have help and your providing little to none. Now when you want a legal visit with someone. You have to fill out a legal visit articulation form. Which ask’s the following personal questions. What type of case are you working on? Do you have a deadline? If so, what is the date? What is your case number? Provide the district court and / or division court that your case is in. Do you have a letter from your attorney? or from the court? What is your justification for the requested legal visit? Justification, how about I’m a hostage of the Texas prison system, is that justification enough? “Oh, but you don’t want poor old Toby to get out. I’m so sorry Boss, please let me catch that rooster for you Boss!” The only thing the Articulation form doesn’t ask for is, your blood type. Do you think they just so happened to bring this up now?

Look at Texas prisons new, “Inspect 2 Protect” rule. Basically, shutting down our access to outside friends and family. Seems someone has been reading the Puppetmasters. How can so many agencies get paid for doing absolutely nothing? You think you can fool us? Hell, we live around criminals 24/7. We see right through your cut and paste surge to lock down the fort. Too little, too late, you took out the offenders Grievance operations manual. Which was certified by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas and Southern District of Texas in 1989.

In 1999, the Texas Board of Criminal Justice (TBCJ) and agency officials approved the Offender Grievance Operations Manual (OGOM) and screening criteria. Pursuant to Board Policy (BP) 03.77, “The resolution support manager “shall” establish and maintain the Offender Grievance Operations Manual (OGOM) to provide guidance to employees regarding the Offender Grievance procedure... Instructions on how to use the Offender Grievance procedure “shall” be established separately from the OGOM for distribution to offenders and employees. Provisions for training, education, and implementation of the Offender Grievance procedure “shall” be established in AD-03.82 “Management of Offender Grievances and the OGOM.” Signed by Oliver J. Bell, Chairman (TBCJ). Note the last part in BP-03.77 “shall be established in AD-03.82”. In AD-03.82, The Resolution Support Manager is responsible for oversight of access to courts, Offender Grievance and Obudsman. Guess we know who to blame.

I want to thank MIM Distributors, PO Box 40799, San Francisco, Ca. 94140 and the Center for Constitutional Rights, 666 Broadway, 7th Floor, New York, New York 10012 (The Jail House Lawyer’s Handbook) for their help in writing this chapter. Remember all West’s Texas Digest 2d are stamped outdated. I worked on this B33k the Puppetmasters for over a decade. And even though there has been times I have seen certain people who have figured out a lot of why the Texas prison system does the things they do. I never thought I would meet someone like my friend Lowrence Bernal, who sees clearly the hatefulness of the people I call the Puppetmasters. And I thank you for your help, for helping me expose these people for the true criminals that they are.

The Attorneys
  • Francisco Hernandez
  • Daniel Hernandez
  • Phillip Hall
  • Rocio Martinez