Thomas Bodnar, a convicted sex offender, won a lawsuit against Riverside County Jail in California for violating his constitutional rights. Bodnar alleged that he was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment during his 3 years of incarceration for being forced to live with sewage chunks on his cell floor. The lawsuit was dismissed in 2014 and Bodnar was paid $25,000.
Since then, another 49 prisoners have filed copycat lawsuits over Riverside County Jail toilets, each citing Bodnars case as an example of why they feel they deserve a payout as well. Each case filed was near identical to the other stating that when an inmate flushed in one cell, a neighboring cell would overflow, leaving the men to walk in their own feces without proper cleaning supplies provided by staff.
However, County Attorneys aren’t convinced, in fact, they are alleging that Bodnar is ‘working’ the system and “ghostwriting” suits on behalf of other inmates in exchange for a percentage of their settlements if they win.
“In essence, this is nothing more than an attempt to extort money from the county while serving a prison sentence,” wrote attorney Wai-Hung Wong in the county’s motion.
Evidence to support the County Attorneys claims comes from the simple fact that every single suit filed is word-to-word identical to Bodnars original complaint and every inmate that has filed was incarcerated in the same facilities as Bodnar. One inmate even spoke publically about his 15% deal with Bodnar. Bodnar has not denied that he has helped some inmates file lawsuits, but denies being compensated. He claims he did not solicit people, it was just word of mouth that brought them to him for help. Bodnar claims, "They are trying to make this out to be some inmate scam, but it's not…I like fighting for the rights of people who can't do it themselves. That's why I helped these guys."
Despite the 50 lawsuits filed by numerous inmates over the unsanitary jailhouse toilets, no independent party has yet assessed the plumbing situation. County Attorneys claim no inspections have occurred because the experts have not yet been appointed by a judge. But when they do occur no one is expecting the findings to be good.
Bodnar originally offered to settle his suit for $35,000 with a gag order that would've prevented him from helping other inmates on their own suits. The County counter-offered a $25,000 settlement without a gag order, which Bodnar accepted.
So far, Riverside County has settled 16 of the toilet lawsuits for a total of $83,000.
Now it looks like the first deal to Bodnar would have been a better deal for the County in the long run…
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