A federal magistrate judge this week refused to shield Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Ricky Dixon and former Secretary Julie Jones from testifying in a legal battle about the use of solitary confinement in the prison system.
The department’s attorneys in March sought a protective order to prevent depositions of Dixon and Jones. In part, the attorneys argued that Dixon and Jones should not be forced to testify in depositions unless plaintiffs could “demonstrate that the agency heads are uniquely able to provide relevant information that cannot be obtained from other sources.”
But in a 23-page decision Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Martin Fitzpatrick said Dixon and Jones had been heavily involved in issues related to solitary confinement and that the plaintiffs had not been able to get the information they sought from other sources.
“Plaintiffs have demonstrated a high degree of personal involvement of both Ms. Jones and Mr. Dixon over the course of many years,” Fitzpatrick wrote. “As secretary, they have a unique perspective, and have firsthand knowledge of why pilot programs were begun and discontinued. Plaintiffs have shown that these individuals are not persons who have had only limited and marginal involvement; they played a significant role in pursuing a ‘course of action’ after considering ‘various alternatives.’ These individuals, as policy makers for the department, can explain the reasons for choosing to utilize solitary confinement to the degree it is used in this state and should be able to better explain the basis for choices made.”
The lawsuit, filed in 2019, contends that the department has overused solitary confinement, including for inmates diagnosed with mental illnesses.