The Florida Department of Corrections has asked a judge to block the U.S. Department of Justice from intervening in a year-old lawsuit alleging that the state's prison system has violated the rights of inmates with disabilities.
The Justice Department sought this month to intervene in the case, which was filed in January 2016 by the organization Disability Rights Florida and alleges violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal laws.
The Justice Department's motion to intervene focused on inmates who are deaf or hard of hearing, alleging that the state routinely fails to provide hearing aids, interpreters and types of communication devices that inmates could use to contact attorneys, families or friends.
But the Department of Corrections filed a 21-page document Friday in federal court in Tallahassee, arguing, in part, that the Justice Department took too long to seek to intervene.
It said federal officials first expressed concerns about the rights of disabled inmates in 2013 but did not take action.
"During the past year, DRF (Disability Rights Florida) has aggressively pursued this case, interviewing numerous inmate witnesses, employing at least three experts who have conducted many weeks of prison visits, and propounding massive discovery requests that have resulted in the DOC (the Department of Corrections) producing over 190,000 pages of documentation," the state department argued. "Significantly, upon information and belief, the DOJ (Department of Justice) has been in communication with DRF about the proceedings in this case, yet it did not attempt to intervene in this case until a few weeks ago. Based on the foregoing, the DOJ, which knew of the issues for years, and clearly had an interest, unreasonably delayed its attempt to enter this case."