DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – The Michigan Supreme Court said Friday it won’t hold up a $100 million settlement for female prisoners who claimed they were sexually harassed while lawyers fight over whether the inmates’ names will be disclosed.
The justices, in a 3-2 decision, refused to upset an Oct. 6 appeals court ruling that kept the money flowing.
Oakland County had asked the court to halt the payments while it sues to try to get names of former and current prisoners who benefited from the 2009 agreement. The county wants names because those inmates still could be liable for paying restitution to victims of their crimes.
A Washtenaw County judge is keeping names confidential under terms of the settlement between the Michigan Department of Corrections and as many as 900 women.
Crime victims will be harmed by the Supreme Court decision, said Justice Stephen Markman, whose views were endorsed by Chief Justice Robert Young Jr.
Markman said the women could squander the money before their victims are paid.
“The majority’s refusal to stay the further distribution of settlement proceeds will, in my judgment, almost certainly prejudice the ability of some unknown number of victims to ever receive the full amount of restitution to which they are entitled,” Markman wrote.
But two other Republican justices, Brian Zahra and Mary Beth Kelly, broke with Markman and Young and joined Democratic Justice Michael Cavanagh in declining to issue a stay. Justices Diane Hathaway and Marilyn Kelly, both Democrats, recused themselves.
An attorney who negotiated the settlement, Deborah LaBelle, believes only 25 women owe money, including 13 in Oakland County.
“The majority of people have long ago paid off their restitution,” she said. “It would have been completely unfair to deprive over 800 women their settlement awards.”
Labelle represented women who said they were raped, groped or peeked at by male prison guards. She told WWJ Newsradio 950′s she is disappointed that Oakland County is targeting these women.
“The court and the defendants and the plaintiffs all agreed to protect those names for many good reasons,” said Labelle. “One, this case was about , in part, women being retaliated against by male staff for coming forward and to expose the names of those women and subject them to greater retaliation, I think, would be terrible.”
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