On May 20, 2021, the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a federal lawsuit against Montgomery County and several administrators at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility, which is the county jail, alleging that the administrators have denied ACLU-PA attorneys and attorneys working with ACLU-PA the right to visit with people detained at the jail.
From October 2020 to March 2021, ACLU-associated lawyers met with people held at the jail several dozen times to investigate allegations of constitutional violations. But in March 2021, those meetings ended when jail administrators informed the lawyers that they could only meet with people in the jail if they had court documentation or a formal letter of agreement of representation with the people they were meeting.
On March 23, ACLU-PA sent a letter to jail administrators and the county to warn them that they were in violation of the constitution. The county never responded, and ACLU-associated lawyers have not been allowed to meet with anyone inside the jail since then.
The lawsuit accuses the county of violating the ACLU-PA’s First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and association and the due process rights of the people held in the jail. It also accuses the county of engaging in retaliation for ACLU-PA’s advocacy, which has included criticizing the county for firing its top two public defenders in 2020, filing a class action lawsuit against the county for charging people duplicative court costs in criminal cases, and submitting a Right to Know request for the jail’s admissions logs, which the county denied.
The ACLU of Pennsylvania is both the plaintiff and co-counsel in the case and is also represented by attorneys from national ACLU and the law firm Arnold & Porter.
On May 24, 2021, a federal judge signed an order approving a negotiated settlement between the ACLU-PA and the county. Under the terms of the settlement, the county will no longer demand the documentation it had previously required of ACLU-associated attorneys, and they can resume their visits with people in the Montgomery County Correctional Facility