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Judge dismisses civil rights suit

Former Blair inmate has option to refile

A federal magistrate judge has dismissed a civil rights lawsuit filed by a former inmate of the Blair County Prison, but the county objected to the dismissal because the inmate has the option to refile his lawsuit.

Hakeem Wright, 45, a native of New Jersey, contends in his lawsuit that he has been hampered over the years in his ability to challenge his drug conviction and sentence because the county has underfunded its public defender’s office.

Wright, an inmate at the State Correctional Institution in Benner Township, Centre County, contends he was denied his constitutional right of access to the courts because of the underfunding problem.

In his lawsuit filed last year, Wright named former County Commissioner Ted Beam, who was the commissioners’ liaison to the county prison, and Public Defender Russell Montgomery.

He blamed the commissioners for the underfunding of the office.

However, Wright last week requested permission from federal Magistrate Patricia L. Dodge to withdraw his lawsuit.

She granted the permission but did so without barring a future attempt by Wright to refile his civil rights action.

The attorney representing the county, Mary Lou Maierhofer of Altoona, responded by stating she did not object to the withdrawal so long as Wright’s complaint was dismissed “with prejudice,” meaning he cannot refile it.

Dodge, citing the rules of civil procedure, ruled a lawsuit may be withdrawn without prejudice.

Maierhofer indicated Wright may refile, noting that his request for withdrawal had initially indicated he wanted a “stay” of his legal action, meaning that it would be temporarily put on old. The word stay was crossed out, replaced with the word “withdrawal.”

Wright, serving a state sentence for drug violations, was represented by attorneys throughout his case, but contended he was unable to properly appeal his conviction.

He wanted the federal court to adequately fund the public defender’s office.

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