Iowa must pay $4.9 million to lawyers in boys' school 'torture' case – Des Moines Register

Iowa must pay $4.9 million in fees and expenses to lawyers who successfully sued the state over mistreatment of students at the Boys State Training School in Eldora, an appeals court ruled Wednesday. 
The fees were awarded last January by U.S. District Judge Stephanie Rose. The judge had earlier ruled in favor of former students who sued the Iowa Department of Human Services. Rose wrote that some of the harsh discipline methods used at the school amounted to “torture,” and she said school leaders showed “deliberate indifference” to the boys’ rights. 
The former students did not seek monetary damages from the state, but their lawyers sought payment for thousands of hours of work on the case. Lawyers for the Iowa Department of Human Services said the requested award was nearly $4 million too much.
The state appealed Rose’s award of attorneys’ fees, but the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that the amount was within the judge’s discretion, so it should be paid. 
Earlier:Judge orders halt to use of restraint device at Iowa detention facility for boys; calls it ‘torture’
The attorneys’ fees are owed to the national law firms Children’s Rights Inc. and Ropes & Gray, plus Disability Rights Iowa, a congressionally chartered group that advocates for Iowans with disabilities. The groups said in a statement Wednesday they were pleased with the appeal’s court ruling upholding the fee award. 
The 2019 trial in U.S. District Court in Des Moines included descriptions of boys screaming while they were pinned to a bed in “the wrap,” a large canvas and velcro contraption. Witnesses said boys — some suicidal and as young as 14 — were routinely forced into isolation for weeks at a time in filthy cells that smelled like urine and had nothing but a sink, toilet and a raised concrete platform to sleep.
Rose ordered dramatic changes in how the facility is run. The wrap was removed, and use of isolation and restraints have been limited. The longtime superintendent and his boss retired. 
A court-appointed monitor subsequently reported surging violence and “profound fear” in the facility, with numerous assaults by students on other students and staff. The monitor reported in November that assaults have been easing, and mental health care and other services have been improving. 
More:Surging violence at Iowa’s Eldora boys school sparks ‘profound fear’ amid shift away from harsh discipline
The Eldora facility, run by the state’s human services department, houses several dozen boys who have been found delinquent in juvenile court for committing crimes. Children’s rights groups sued the state in 2017, contending the school’s discipline methods were unconstitutional. State administrators contended the methods were necessary to control unruly teens, some of whom were sent to the school after committing severe assaults or even killing people.
The judge disagreed, ordering major changes to the school’s discipline methods and its mental health care services. 
Tony Leys covers health care for the Register. Reach him at or 515-284-8449. 


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