Back Story Rarely Told

The generosity of lawyers who give of their time and
resources for the public good

After nine years, the case of Disability Rights Montana, Inc. v. Brian M. Gootkin, et al., was settled in March of 2022. The Landmark settlement agreement ratified significant reforms for treatment of mentally ill incarcerated individuals at Montana State Prison.

Read the full settlement agreement here

Prior to the settlement, incarcerated people with mental illness were routinely subjected to extended periods of solitary confinement, which deprived them of clothing, working toilets, bedding, and proper food. Disability Rights Montana’s (DRM) complaint alleged cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Among other terms, the settlement agreement requires prisoners diagnosed with severe mental illness be provided mental health treatment by qualified mental health professionals, a minimum of 4 hours out-of-cell time per day, and cells that, at a minimum, have toilets, sinks, and platform beds.

The back story of this settlement is the generosity of the law firm of Foley & Lardner LLP.

In the legal profession, all lawyers have a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay. In short, it is referred to as pro bono. It comes from a Latin phrase, pro bono publico, which means for the public good or welfare.

Foley & Lardner is a preeminent law firm with over 1,100 lawyers and 25 offices worldwide. Jeffery Simmons and Matt Lee, partners at Foley, provided the leadership over a team of its lawyers and support staff in representing DRM in bringing the lawsuit against the Montana State Prison.

Foley & Lardner provided their legal services pro bono and paid all the associated costs in the case. The firm logged 5,258 hours, equivalent to $2,438,021 in attorney fees and paid $202,832 in cost. The total investment in Montana is over two and half million dollars.

When Foley & Lardner agreed to represent DRM, they did it with no hesitation. During settlement negotiations, they focused on the best outcome for Montana residents with mental illness and did not make claim for attorney’s fees or costs.

It is troubling the State of Montana had to be sued to require them to provide humane treatment and follow the constitution.

Access to justice should be available to all. However, the inmates with mental illness at Montana State Prison would never have been able to afford the justice they deserved if it was not for the generous pro bono work of Foley & Lardner. Matt Lee, lead counsel and partner, said the investment was “certainly worth it for the result we got and for the experience of working with DRM”.

DRM is eternally grateful to Foley & Lardner’s team of 42 lawyers for their generosity and commitment to the public good and welfare of Montana residents with mental illness.