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July 23, 2007 - Washington Coalition for Open Government (WA)

Washington Coalition For Open Government To Present James Madison Award To Paul Wright Of Prison Legal News

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Self-taught editor Paul Wright, who founded Prison Legal News from inside his cell at the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe and continues to use public records to document conditions inside jails and prisons nationwide since his release from custody in 2003, will receive the James Madison Award from the Washington Coalition for Open Government.

The award, the group's highest honor, will be presented at a breakfast reception September 21 at the Washington Athletic Club in Seattle.

Wright, 42, recently settled a seven-year-long legal battle with the Washington Department of Corrections over records dealing with medical care of prisoners. The department agreed to pay $541,000 in fees and penalties -- the largest public records award in Washington state history.

Wright was sentenced to a 25-year prison term for the 1987 murder of a Federal Way drug dealer during a botched robbery attempt. It was the 21-year-old U.S. Army MP's only brush with the law. Following his incarceration, he took the advice of a fellow prisoner and got a job in the prison law library. With a budget of $50, he launched PLN in 1990. The first few issues were crude, hand-illustrated and only 10 pages, but had an immediate and controversial impact.

The inaugural issue included stories about the suspected murder of a prisoner by an Oregon correctional officer, perceived abuses by the Washington and details of a court ruling that awarded $241,000 in damages to three prisoners whom guards had handcuffed and beaten during a prison riot. The first three issues were banned within all Washington prisons until the order was overturned.

Wright, who relocated to Vermont after his release from prison in December 2003, continues to edit PLN, which now boasts 6,300 subscribers in all 50 states and reaches every maximum- and medium-security prison in the United States. Wright also continues to use public records laws to uncover and document abuse of prisoners and their legal rights.

"Paul Wright had no resources, no power, and no clout," said Seattle attorney Michele Earl-Hubbard, a past president of WCOG who represented PLN in public record cases and nominated Wright for the James Madison Award. "While confined by the state he waged and successfully won open government battle after battle, and he made law that will benefit the public in the future."

The James Madison Award, named for the nation's fourth president, known as the Father of the Constitution, is awarded annually by WCOG to an individual who has demonstrated exceptional dedication to the cause of open government. Past honorees were Rowland Thompson, Executive Director of Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington in 2006, and retired Washington State Chief Justice James Andersen in 2005.

The Washington Coalition for Open Government (WCOG) is a non-profit organization founded in 2003 by a group of individuals representing a broad spectrum of opinions and backgrounds, all dedicated to the principles of strengthening the state's open government laws and protecting the public's access to government at all levels.

For more information, contact Washington Coalition for Open Government, 6351 Seaview Avenue NW, Seattle, WA 98107-2664 or on the web at or call (206) 782-0393.

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