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10:15am — Valencia Co. Strip-Search Suit Settled for $3.3 Million

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County to pay $2.145 million, jail operators $1.155 million in class-action settlement OK’d last month.

A federal judge late last month approved a preliminary settlement agreement in a class-action suit against Valencia County regarding unlawful strip searches at the jail, the Valencia County News-Bulletin reported.

Valencia County will pay $2.145 million and Cornell Corrections, a private company that operated the county’s jail, will pay $1.155 million to settle a class-action suit filed in April 2007 on behalf of plaintiffs who claimed they were unlawfully strip-searched at the jail, according to the agreement.

The suit was filed by the law firms of Rothstein, Donatelli, Hughes, Dahlstrom, Schoenburg and Bienvenu in Santa Fe and Guggino and Associates in Los Lunas on behalf of two clients, who will each receive $42,500 under the settlement given preliminary approval by U.S. District Judge M. Christina Armijo.

The preliminary settlement calls for $1.1 million to be allocated for attorneys’ fees, gross receipts taxes on attorneys’ fees and plaintiffs’ litigation expenses and costs, the News-Bulletin said.

After paying the actual costs of claims administration, the balance of the settlement fund will be distributed among members of the plaintiff class who qualify, the paper reported.

“We think there are probably about 630 people that are potentially members of the class,” Santa Fe attorney John Bienvenu told the News-Bulletin. “They are defined as people arrested on charges not involving drugs, weapons or violence between April 3, 2004 and April 3, 2007.”

Bienvenu said he expects only a small fraction of that number to actually submit claims, but those who do must file by June 5 this year, the News-Bulletin said.

A hearing to approve the final settlement agreement is scheduled for 9 a.m. July 13 at the federal courthouse in Albuquerque, the paper reported.

The Valencia County Adult Detention Center changed the jail’s policy on strip searches in February 2007 after the lawsuit was filed, and all staff members were told that a strip search will only be conducted on incoming inmates if there is a “reasonable belief” that the person may be in possession of a weapon, narcotics, drug paraphernalia or any other contraband.

 

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