2009 Press Releases

7.8.2009: ACLU Fights For Prisoner Punished For Exercising Freedom Of Speech

The ACLU Foundation of Louisiana today filed a lawsuit on behalf of prisoner Ernest Billizone, who was punished by prison officials for filing simple written complaints about employee behavior. Although his written complaints contained no threats of violence, foul language or unlawful or improper action, the prison punished him. In one instance, he was punished for "spreading rumors."

Over four years ago the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana ruled that punishing a prisoner for "spreading rumors" violated the First Amendment. ACLU Executive Director Marjorie R. Esman said: "A prisoner, like anyone else, has a right to complain about the government. This right is guaranteed by the First Amendment." Esman continued: "A prisoner should not fear being punished simply because the prison doesn't like his complaints."

The punishment raises concerns that other prisoners will be afraid to complain. Esman continued "Not only were Billizone's rights violated, but the punishment he received has a chilling effect on other prisoners. Prison conditions are a serious concern in Louisiana. Punishing a prisoner such as Mr. Billizone for the simple fact of filing a complaint may inhibit prisoners from submitting legitimate complaints, even though the law allows them to do so."

The case, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, is styled "Ernest Billizone v. James LeBlanc et al." Billizone is represented by ACLU attorneys Barry Gerharz and Katie Schwartzmann.

 To view the complaint, click here:  www.laaclu.org/PDF_documents/Billizone_Complaint_07082009.PDF