More than 25 years after it was filed, the civil rights case spawned by the deadly 1971 Attica uprising could be settled within weeks.
A settlement proposal has been made, subject to the approval of U.S. Senior Judge Michael A. Telesca, an attorney in the case confirmed today.
The settlement proposal is expected to be considered by the judge sometime early next year, and possibly as early as next week.
Mitchell J. Banas Jr., the attorney who represents Karl Pfeil, former assistant deputy superintendent at Attica, declined to provide any details about possible monetary awards to inmates who brought the class-action lawsuit against former state prison officials.
"Judge Telesca and the parties have worked too long and too hard to put a settlement together that I would not even begin to jeopardize it by providing any details," Banas said today.
The parties are expected to appear in U.S. District Court again Tuesday, when a settlement proposal could be announced.
However, finalizing the settlement and making any possible payments to former inmates likely would take months.
"Given the diligence with which Judge Telesca has approached the matter, I can't imagine that it will take any longer than it absolutely has to," Banas said.
The attorney also was asked about the impact of a possible final settlement of the oft-delayed Attica case.
"It really ought to come as a relief to all concerned, certainly to my client," Banas said. "And from society's perspective, bringing Attica to closure might heal some old and festering wounds."
However, any payment offer from the state is expected to be opposed by corrections officials. A union spokesman for those officers already has said many would be upset by any such payment, which could be in the millions of dollars.
The Attica case, one of the longest-running legal disputes in the U.S. court system, is a class-action lawsuit filed by more than 1,200 former Attica inmates.
The inmates, backed by a number of noninmate witnesses, claimed they were beaten and tortured after authorities stormed the prison to end a prisoner takeover in September 1971. Police stormed the prison after inmates held Attica's "D" Yard for four days.
The lawsuit has dragged on for years, seemingly near resolution several times, only to be delayed by various rulings and appeals.
In February 1992, a trial jury ruled that Pfeil, the former assistant deputy superintendent, was liable for some reprisals against prisoners after the riot was quelled. But Senior District Judge John T. Elfvin could not devise a formula to determine the settlement awards.
The case returned to the fast track last August, after several developments.
First, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned two jury verdicts from 1997 that had awarded $4 million to one prisoner, Frank "Big Black" Smith, and $75,000 to another, David Brosig. That appeals court blasted Elfvin for his handling of the case and even suggested the chief district judge consider reassigning the case.
Elfvin then removed himself from the case, which was assigned to Telesca and U.S. District Judge David G. Larimer.
Legal observers predicted the case might be solved fairly quickly, praising Telesca as a feisty, no-nonsense judge considered an expert in settling tough cases.