A federal judge Thursday ordered Nassau to deposit $11.5 million with the clerk of the court to pay claims resulting from a 1999 class-action lawsuit which found that inmates charged with nonviolent misdemeanors were unlawfully strip-searched upon admission to the county jail in East Meadow.
U.S. District Court Judge Denis Hurley rejected Nassau’s suggestion that it pay only $5 million into a “special revenue account” and deposit more as claims are filed by the estimated 20,000 people who were unconstitutionally strip-searched between 1996 and 1999.
Instead, Hurley directed the county to deposit the full amount of the final judgment of $11,508,000 on or before Aug. 15 since “the county has represented that it is ‘ready, willing and able to pay any amount of that judgment into court or a bank if required.’ ” Hurley said the court clerk will deposit the money into an interest-bearing account.
Nassau had appealed the original April 2014 judgment, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the award last month.
County Attorney Carnell Foskey said Thursday, “This case has been in the courts since 1999 and we are reviewing the court’s order but will also be appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
However, lawyers not associated with the case said the chances are slim that it will be reviewed by the nation’s top court.
Manhattan attorney Robert Herbst, who filed the first claim against the county over strip searches and subsequently filed a class-action lawsuit in 1999, said of Hurley’s order: “This represents the culmination of 17 years of effort. When I started the case, I was 51 years old.”
He said members of the class action lawsuit call him “just about every day.” They are among those people who were charged with nonviolent, non-drug-related misdemeanors, violations and civil penalties but were still strip-searched as part of a blanket county policy to keep contraband out of the jail. The practice ended in 1999 when a judge ruled it unconstitutional.
Asked if he expects the money to be deposited as ordered, Herbst said, “I fully expect the county will comply with its obligations under the final judgment and Judge Hurley’s ruling today.”
Nassau told the court that the county legislature had approved borrowing to finance the judgment two years ago and that the county also has money available in a newly createdlitigation fund. In arguing for an initial $5 million deposit, the county noted the time frame for filing claims does not expire until Feb. 2018.
But Hurley responded that $5 million “seems unrealistic” given that there is already a $4 million charge against the county for court-awarded attorneys fees and expenses.
Inmates who were unlawfully strip searched are each entitled to $500 for the loss of human dignity. Herbst said inmates can make separate claims for emotional distress. He said anybody who believes they are entitled to payment should call a toll free number, 877-933-1295, to see if they are part of the class-action database.