Lawyers who sued the state alleging the correctional system botched the pandemic response in Hawaii’s prison and jails will be paid more than $250,000 in attorneys’ fees, according to a new filing by the state Attorney General’s Office.

The House Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee gave tentative approval to Senate Bill 3041 on Tuesday, which would provide that money for lawyers’ fees to Honolulu attorney Eric Seitz and his associates.

The federal class-action lawsuit filed by Seitz and his team this past June alleged the response to the coronavirus pandemic was so inadequate that it violated the inmates’ constitutional rights.

U.S. District Court Judge Jill Otake issued a decision in that case on July 13 that found the state failed to follow its own Pandemic Response Plan, and also issued a preliminary injunction ordering the correctional system to finally follow the plan.

OCCC Oahu Community Correctional Center.
A federal judge has signed off on both the settlement and the lawyers’ fees in the class-action lawsuit filed over the state’s response to the pandemic in Hawaii prisons and jails. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Otake also declared in her decision the state response to the spread of Covid-19 in Hawaii correctional facilities was so poorly executed that corrections officials demonstrated “objective deliberate indifference” to the threat the virus posed to the inmates.

Covid-19 has been blamed in the deaths of 10 Hawaii prisoners so far, including eight in Halawa Correctional Facility and two at the Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona. Most of those men have not been publicly identified, but they ranged in age from one who was in his 50s to one who was 84 years old, according to the state Department of Public Safety.

In all, more than 4,600 Hawaii inmates have been infected to date, but Hawaii officials reported only one active inmate case in the state correctional system as of Wednesday.

Under the terms of a settlement of the federal lawsuit, the state was required to create a five-member panel of experts that is responsible for interviewing staff and inmates, and for making recommendations or raising concerns about the system’s pandemic response.

According to written testimony from the state Attorney General’s Office, the federal court issued a decision on Nov. 10 approving the final settlement and lawyer’s fees of $250,540, and dismissing the case.

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