A federal judge has ordered Vigo County to pay $16,000 for attorney fees to Attorney Michael K. Sutherlin, who represented Jauston Huerta in a class action lawsuit against county officials regarding conditions at the Vigo County Jail.

Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson issued the order on Friday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.

Huerta was the first plaintiff in the federal lawsuit filed in October 2016. Huerta's personal injury claim, as part of a class action, was settled in February for $12,500.

Sutherlin in April sought $34,583 in attorney fees. Vigo County attorneys contested Sutherlin's hourly rates, saying the attorney hourly rate is set by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) to $211.50. Sutherlin asserted his market rate of $500 an hour applied after Huerta's transfer from the Vigo County Jail. 

Vigo attorneys contested the PLRA applied to all time that Huerta was incarcerated, including while in the state's Reception Diagnostic Center and in the Putnamville Correctional Facility.

Vigo County attorneys argued the payment, after a review of hours, should be $14,635. In July, after negotiations, parties agreed to $16,000. The county now has seven days after the judge's order to pay Sutherlin.

Sutherlin filed the class-action lawsuit against Vigo County, the Vigo County Council and Vigo County sheriff on behalf of inmate Huerta and all current and future inmates of the jail. He argued the jail population regularly exceeds a 268-inmate cap set in 2002 to settle another class-action complaint.

The lawsuit alleged unconstitutional conditions in the jail such as lack of inmates meeting privately with attorneys on regular basis; substandard inmate classification and segregation; inadequate space for recreation; lack of educational programs; and denial of psychiatric and mental health services

The county conceded the existence of unconstitutional conditions and agreed on remedies. Those remedies included the federal court retaining jurisdiction, with Judge Magnus-Stinson monitoring Vigo County’s progress on a new jail.

The county on Aug. 2 filed a status report with the federal court stating the Terre Haute City Council had approved a rezoning petition for former golf course property on Honey Creek Drive intended to be the site for a new jail.

The report said the county is working to close on the sale of property with Culp Ventures LLC within 30 days.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com. Follow on Twitter@TribStarHoward.

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