SEATTLE (AP) - AT&T has agreed to pay families of Washington state prisoners $45 million to settle a class action lawsuit involving collect calls made from state prisons.
Lawyers estimate at least 70,000 families are eligible for some of the money from the settlement filed Friday in King County Superior Court, The Seattle Times reported ( http://is.gd/pefLYp) Sunday.
The lawsuit filed in 2000 accused AT&T and other phone companies of failing to disclose exorbitant rates for collect calls from prison.
The case has moved back and forth between the Washington Supreme Court, the state Utilities and Trade Commission, and King County Superior Court. It was settled just before it was scheduled to go to trial in King County to determine damages.
The class action lawsuit covers collect calls made between 1996 and 2000 from Department of Corrections facilities. It was filed by family members and friends of Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News and a former inmate in Washington state.
Wright estimated that between 70,000 and 172,000 people could be eligible for refunds that include full reimbursement of call charges, plus $200 per person.
At the time, those charges were $3.95 for the first minute and 90 cents each additional minute, according to Seattle attorney Chris Youtz, who represented the prison families. After 20 minutes, the calls ended, requiring a new call, and a new surcharge
"The rates were ridiculous," Youtz said.
AT&T spokesman Marty Richter said in a statement that the company believes it had followed all the rules at issue in the lawsuit.
"We are pleased to see the litigation resolved in a way that, among other things, supports legal assistance for low-income residents of Washington state and educational assistance for families of prison inmates in the state," he said.
Information from: The Seattle Times, http://www.seattletimes.com
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