Fox Lake Reporter #14 – January 24, 2021


   Milwaukee’s Blessed Savior Catholic Church, Project Return and Community Advocates are working together to begin Family Circles of Support.  This is a virtual (at this point) time for family members of those who are or have been incarcerated who would like to find a way to be herard, understood and supported while exploring topics surrounding incarceration and the impact on the lives of the families of the incarcerated.

  These Zoom meetings will be held on the 1st Monday of every month, beginning on February 1, 2021, from 6:30 until 8:00pm.  People can join in on their computer, or call in to the meeting on their phones.  Please share this information with your family members and if they are interested they can contact Amanda Smit at Project Return – 414.418.7312 or for the information on how to sign in to the meeting.

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) — Republican lawmakers are proposing everyone in the state to become eligible for the vaccine by mid-March and want to have inmates wait longer for vaccines under legislation introduced this week. A state advisory board is currently in charge of approving vaccine priority but Republicans are trying to bypass the committee introducing proposals to have a say in the process. Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin) introduced a bill to open up eligibility to every Wisconsin resident by mid-March. He believes as the federal government ramps up production of vaccines and with additional companies on the brink of approval from the FDA, opening up eligibility to all Wisconsinites will allow the state to keep up with demand. “The supply should ramp up pretty quickly and I just want us to be able to take advantage of that to get folks vaccinated as fast as possible,” said Sanfelippo. 2/2 Sen. Latonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee) believes the idea could create unfair advantages as some people don’t have insurance and would be unable to call their health care provider to schedule an appointment. She supports having the state advisory board make the decisions when administering vaccines. “We are not the experts, we need to leave these decisions to them,” said Johnson. Another bill would bar the state from prioritizing prisoners from receiving the vaccine before the general public has access to it. Sen. Van Wanggard (R-Racine) says essential workers like grocery store employees should be prioritized before those who are behind bars. “The (state) is just going to do all the prisoners, 20,000 prisoners? That doesn’t make any sense when we have people that are essential to our state that continue to work,” said Wanggaard. Advocates argue vaccinating the prison population early benefits the whole state. “These outbreaks inside of prisons affect those outside of prisons,” said Sean Wilson, ACLU Wisconsin Smart Justice Campaign Manager. “It affects communities that staff members are a part of. It affects the hospital capacity.” The Republican bill will likely go before the Assembly and Senate for a vote next week. It’s likely Gov. Tony Evers would veto the plan because he openly supports the advisory committee made up of health experts who decide who gets priority in the state. 

MITCHELL ZIMMERMAN (472622) 1/13/2021 10:57:34 PM

In my first email I failed to discuss the issue of expert payment. So, I will expand on this subject. 


As this subject in and of itself is very important, I will bring up my past arguments on this point. In the last meeting notes someone correctly argued that the courts generally work against inmates in bringing claims. This is especially true with medical issues. Why? Unfortunately, whenever a inmate brings a “deliberate indifference” claim alleging that the institution staff and medical personnel were deliberately indifferent to a serious medical need and that the deliberate indifference led to preventable or “wanton” pain and suffering, in the majority of cases a inmate will be required to produce a medical expert to establish the “standard of care.” 

I thought recently that I was going to have the opportunity to change inmates rights regarding medical cases throughout the entire US: I litigated Reifschneider v. Dr. Grossman, Eastern District Case No. 18-cv-0146. Currently the law is that no inmate has any right to counsel in civil litigation generally. I was going to change this. This case was extremely unique, as Reifschneider was a life-long drug user with a serious past of methamphetamine use. He has schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and other miscellaneous conditions. The court granted the motion I drafted for appointment of counsel, in which it acknowledged that Reifschneider could not litigate himself because of his condition. However, after 2 months of the courts staff attorneys attempting to find an attorney willing to take the case, it decided to force us to litigate the action ourselves. It had also determined in its order granting counsel that an expert would be needed to establish the “standard of care.” Subsequently, the court dismissed the lawsuit, granting summary judgment for all defendants on the basis that we failed to produce a expert witness. 

I appealed the decision to the US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, in Reifschneider v. Dr. Grossman, Case No. 20-2841. The basis of the appeal was that the courts and government were violation Reifschneider’s right to court access guaranteed by the First Amendment. If you do not know this, a inmate has a right to what is called “meaningful court access.” (Lewis v. Casey, 518 US 343, 351 ¶2, 116 S.Ct. 2174 (1996)). In this case and the cases before it, the Supreme Court ordered the government, and institutions, to provide inmates with “adequate law libraries or people trained in the law” to afford them a opportunity to present meritorious cases to the courts. 

My whole argument on appeal was that the court was required by law to give Reifschneider an attorney in order to afford him meaningful access to the courts, because the court found Reifschneider too mentally ill and the case too complex because it needed an expert and it explicitly stated that it was granting appointment because there was no way that Reifschneider could get an expert himself, and even if he could, there was no way that he could properly question the expert and get the testimony needed without an attorney. The granting of summary judgment was a violation of both due process and court access. 

On appeal the state threw a settlement offer at him and he immediately got the thought of buying all types of stuff and told me that he had never been able to “take care of himself” and the money would allow him to do that for once, so he took it and ran… Leaving the issue unresolved. It is a shame. 

The moral of this story is that this is a real-life issue for inmates. As inmates simply do not have meaningful court access in medical cases because of this. 


There has to be a Doctor or Nurse out there who is either a prisoners’ rights activist or a humanitarian who would be willing to testify for free… If you guys look around maybe you could find one.


As this is a continual issue, there needs to be a continual way for inmates to obtain medical experts. Maybe your organization would be willing to look into a crowd-funding avenue for this??? 


In closing, our government is clearly set up to keep those who are incarcerated and those with criminal backgrounds as second-class citizens. The are ways to change this, however it will take a serious amount of time and effort to make this happen. Like I said in previous emails, I will not lose another case, so I will not file this case until an expert is obtained.