SCRANTON, PA - Correctional Care, Inc. ("CCI"), the firm that provides health care to the Lackawanna County Prison, has dropped its lawsuit against Joseph Rogan after the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and volunteer lawyers from the law firm of Cozen O'Connor intervened. CCI sued Rogan, a member of the Northeastern PA chapter of Pax Christi, after the group released a report criticizing medical care for inmates in the prison.
Pax Christi, an international Catholic peace and justice organization, started investigating the state of medical care in the Lackawanna County Jail after a highly publicized incident in the summer of 2007, when an inmate gave birth alone in her cell, without medical attention or even a guard to help her. After requests for an independent investigation were ignored, Pax Christi did its own evaluation, interviewing a number of current and former inmates. They reported what they learned to the Lackawanna County Commissioners and suggested a fuller investigation. When they received no response to their concerns, they sent their report to the press.
After the report became public, CCI sued Rogan personally for "an amount in excess of $50,000" plus attorneys fees and punitive damages, claiming that the Pax Christi report he helped write was defamatory and an unjustified interference with CCI's contract with Lackawanna County. Rogan worried that the lawsuit could cost him his home and his retirement savings.
"We call this a SLAAP suit - a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation," said Mary Catherine Roper, staff attorney for the ACLU. "The goal of a SLAAP suit is to quash criticism of people and corporations that are affecting the public, but don't want to be publicly accountable."
Rogan's attorneys notified CCI that the lawsuit violated Rogan's rights under the First Amendment and urged CCI to withdraw the suit. Last week, CCI did just that.
"It offends everyone who believes in the Constitution when the courts are used to punish a person for expressing concerns on a subject so important to the community," said Jack Cohn, one of the volunteer attorneys from Cozen O'Connor working on the case.
"The members of Pax Christi are dedicated to working for justice - internationally, nationally, and locally," said Rogan, a retired special education teacher. "We believe that we not only have a right to speak out and to act, but the responsibility to do so - the social justice teachings of our Church do not allow us to look the other way."
Pax Christi intends to continue its efforts to improve health care at the prison. To date, neither the County Commissioners nor the Prison Board has responded to the group's report.
"As far as we can determine, after well more than a year, there have been no substantive changes in medical care at the prison of the sort that would prohibit similar incidents," said Rogan. "We issued our report in January and as of yet we have not had a response to the report from the County Commissioners or the Prison Board, despite a series of follow up letters we sent."
Rogan is represented by Roper, Cohn and Tom Wilkinson of Cozen O'Connor, and national counsel for Pax Christi, William P. Quigley of the Loyola University New Orleans School of Law.