We Sued the NY Parole Board and their Lawyers Are Playing Dodgeball

I learned on Valentine’s Day that the New York Attorney General’s office is acting like a bad partner in a lover’s spat.

It’s like when the wife says, “I need you to put your dirty underwear in the basket. Can you do that?”

And the guy replies, “Well, I can’t stand the way you snap your gum!”

Instead of answering our lawsuit—they didn’t.

We filed an Article 78 against the NY Parole Board. It’s a lawsuit that challenges an administrative decision. The State Attorney General lawyers defend it.

I wrote a book, A Jacket off the Gorge, about a guy named Jon Fontaine. He was in prison, but now he’s not. When he was in prison, we had all sorts of contact. That led to me writing a bunch of blogs about the bad goings on in prison. And it got a lot of attention. How Prison Guards Really Behave is the most popular blog, earning low scores all around from prison staff.

And then—BAM—my name ends up on a document that states Jon cannot have contact with me when he is released from prison.

There’s a head scratcher. I’m not a victim. I had nothing to do with his crime (or any crime. I’m crime free, aka a good influence.).

But—oh, wait. There’s that anti-prison book. Oh, and those anti-prison blogs.

We filed an Article 78 lawsuit challenging the no-contact decision after one solid year of prison staff giving us the run-around. No one admitted to putting my name on the list. Then, different people raised their hands to own up to it (“It was me.” “No, it was me.”). Most importantly, no one could tell us why my name was on the list.

We think we know. (See previous paragraph about anti-prison book and anti-prison blog).

Our lawsuit alleges constitutional rights violations. Jon is owned by the state, but I am not. And a restriction on Jon communicating with me is a restriction on my communication. I am a free adult. No one can hamper my communication. And there’s that b-o-o-k. There are first amendment violations all around.

So Prisoners’ Legal Services took up the case for free. They filed the Article 78 on December 6, 2017. The AG had a three week deadline to reply. Instead, they asked not to reply. They waited until the very last day—the deadline—and got the judge to push back the case another month and a half. And on their next deadline to reply, instead of filing an answer, they filed a Motion to Dismiss, and a laughably stupid one at that.

The grounds? The AG lawyer claimed Jon did not exhaust all of his options to try to remove my name from his no-contact list, because he didn’t file a grievance to prison staff. It doesn’t take a law degree to understand that an inmate grievance to facility staff has nothing to do with parole release conditions imposed by the NYS Board of Parole. Sure, the staff initially put my name on there, but they sent it to the Parole Board, who then rubber stamped it. Done.

The good news for us: The judge will strike it down. The bad news for you: your hard-earned tax money gets to pay for all this unnecessary court drama.

The PLS attorney filed his rebuttal on Valentine’s Day, and it delivers quite the one-two punch. You can almost hear the “ARE YOU FRIGGIN’ STUPID?” in his response papers. Perhaps on Friday (February 16), the judge will rule on the motion to dismiss. Either way, it unfairly drags out this lawsuit for us, and costs you money.

“Petitioner could not have raised his complaint regarding release conditions by filing an Inmate Grievance pursuant to 7 NYCRR Part 701, because pursuant to 7 NYCRR 701.3(f) actions or decisions by an outside agency or entity not under the supervision of the Commissioner of DOCCS are not within the jurisdiction of the Inmate Grievance Program . . . Pursuant to Executive Law 259-c(2), the Parole Board has the “power and duty of determining the conditions of relase of any person being released to community supervision.'”

Prisoners’ Legal Services Senior Supervising Attorney

Read Prisoner’s Legal Services entire  reply to the Motion to Dismiss.

Read the NYS Attorney General’s Motion to Dismiss, prepared by Assistant AG Omar Siddiqi (perhaps better suited to be an intern).

Read more about our litigation here.

And stay tuned for more parole drama! We’ll get your head spinning with this stuff. Sign up for the newsletter so you don’t miss a minute of it.

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We Sued the NYS Parole Board and It’s Downright Silly

“… explain to me how prohibiting Mr. Fontaine from associating with a woman who has done nothing more than telling his personal story is a proper release condition.”

Attorney letter to NYS Parole Board lawyer and chairwoman

It’s not the lawsuit that’s silly. But wait until you read the exchanges with prison and parole.

I wrote a book about a New York prison inmate who’s now on parole. Before his release, someone from the prison put my name on his “no-contact” list – but no one’s owning up to it.

I’m a journalist. Jon Fontaine is a guy I dated before I knew he was a criminal. A Jacket off the Gorge is about his crimes and the period when our lives intersected. Jon has lawsuits against prison staff. The book covers that.

On December 6, Prisoner’s Legal Services filed a lawsuit against the New York Board of Parole to get my name removed from Jon’s “no contact” list, alleging constitutional rights violations.

It was July 24 when PLS Attorney Sophia Heller stepped in and wrote the parole board chairwoman and chief counsel.

“… this condition is inappropriate. I thus respectfully request that Mr. Fontaine’s release conditions be amended accordingly.”

On August 15, the parole board secretary replied:

“… this condition was removed on April 18.”

However, the “amended” document still contained the original restriction:

“I will not associate or communicate by any means with Susan Ashline… without the permission of the [parole officer]. “

And added a line:

“I can be around/communicate with Susan Ashline as long as parole officer agrees.”

Yes, it really says that—the same thing twice, with the words flipped.

On August 21, the PLS attorney again wrote the board:

“… to impose this condition in any form without justification is entirely inappropriate.”

No one responded.

Since we’d planned to jointly promote A Jacket off the Gorge upon Jon’s release in September 2017, I had chased down getting my name removed from his no-contact list as early as one year prior to his release.

I endured months of head-scratching nonsense from Mid-State prison staffers who kept sending me out for buckets of steam, particularly Ronald Meier, a supervisor in the prison counseling office. I had caught Meier in several lies (see previous story). He kept feigning ignorance about the parole condition.

A parole board staff member then informed me the parole release conditions came directly from the facility. The document had Meier’s name stamped on it. The parole board blindly approved it.

I wrote the parole board instructing them to remove my name, included correspondence with prison staff, and stated prison staff had insisted only the parole board could remove my name.

Parole board secretary Lorraine Morse wrote on March 9:

“There is no indication that Mr. Fontaine wishes to have your name removed. If he wishes, he must submit in writing to the Guidance Office—SORC Meier—Midstate CF his request to have it removed.”

She’d passed the ball back to Meier. I called Morse and told her that was the very problem—that’d I’d kept getting passed back and forth. Meier was insisting he had no role in changing the condition.

Don’t worry, she told me. It won’t be a problem. “I had conversations with him directly. He knows exactly what he’s supposed to do.”

As directed, Jon sent the request to Meier on March 20.

How did Meier respond?

“This request will be forwarded to the parole board.”

Meier never did send it to the parole board anyway. He sent it to his supervisor in the prison, Jeff McCoy, Deputy Commissioner for Program Services.

McKoy wrote Jon on June 5:

“Please be advised that the Parole Board Commissioners are responsible for all final determinations of parole conditions.”

But on March 20, Jon had also sent his request to the parole board, just to be safe.

It was after that the parole board made their genius amendment.

Jon spoke with his prison counselor, Larry Zick, who allegedly told Jon that he was the one who wrote the parole release document, and my name was a whoopsie—he may have gotten distracted while writing up the list (because I had to point out to prison staff that they’d removed the name of Jon’s crime victim while surreptitiously inserting my name in her place).

Prior to that, more than a half dozen staffers claimed they had no idea how my name got on the list, or why. After stating he had no idea why my name was on the list, Meier told me in a phone call that it was because I’d briefly put myself on Jon’s no-correspondence list of my own volition.

I beat down doors until I got an investigation opened. Then, I was told a different story by yet another prison employee. This time, the story was that a prison staffer named Lisa Hoy added my name to the list, alleging I’d called her in 2015 and told her I was afraid of Jon.

2015? That’s curious timing.

In 2015, Jon’s attorney filed lawsuits against staff at Mid-State and Groveland prisons. In 2015, Mid-State staff became aware of my book when I wrote administration seeking permission to do a media interview of Jon inside the facility. It was denied.

I’d been posting stories by Jon on my website; many unfavorable to prison staff. Someone posted a story from my website to an online forum for prison employees. Views of that story spiked well into the thousands. A couple prison employees posted angry comments on my website.

We believe the inclusion of my name on Jon’s “no contact” list was an attempt to silence our story.

Conveniently, Hoy left the prison job a very long time ago. I have no idea who she is. I’m not inclined to phone strangers at a prison to talk about my feelings. And if that call actually took place, what steps did the prison do to “protect” me? Because in 2015, and up to the time of his release, Jon and I had seamless, unhampered contact via phone calls, letters and visits.

I am not afraid of Jon.

The condition states that contact is ultimately up to his Rochester parole officer, Martin Buonanno. Note that almost all correspondence is cc’ed to Jon’s file. Either Buonanno didn’t bother to read it, or he arbitrarily dismissed it. He denied me the right to communicate with someone.

I am not under state ownership. My constitutional freedoms are not discretionary.

The litigation, called and Article 78, challenges an administrative decision; in this case, the parole board adding my name to the “no contact” list. The case is set be argued in State Supreme Court in Albany on January 5, 2018.

Cause of Action, Fontaine v. NYS Board of Parole
Memo of Law, Fontaine v. NYS Board of Parole
Memo of Law, Fontaine v. NYS Board of Parole
Cause of Action, Fontaine v. NYS Board of Parole

Click here to read my affidavit

Read the Cause of Action:

 

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