Title: Sole Practitioner
Company: Law Offices of Elizabeth Alexander
Location: Washington, D.C., United States
Elizabeth Rose Alexander, Sole Practitioner at the Law Offices of Elizabeth Alexander, has been recognized by Marquis Who’s Who Top Lawyers for dedication, achievements, and leadership in the legal field.
With over five decades of legal experience, Elizabeth Alexander has litigated a number of landmark cases involving the treatment of prisoners. For most of her career, she was employed by the National Prison Project of the ACLU. In that capacity, she litigated significant cases in a majority of the federal circuits. Among Ms. Alexander’s cases were three that she briefed and argued before the United States Supreme Court. In one of these cases, Farmer v. Brennan, the Supreme Court announced a new and highly detailed standard for determining whether conditions of confinement violated the Constitution. That case involved a claim by a prisoner that immediately after he arrived at a federal prison, he was raped by another prisoner, causing him serious injury. Prison staff should have known that Mr. Farmer was at substantial risk of assault because of his appearance. The Supreme Court after explaining the new standard remanded the case to the lower court to determine whether the facts justified relief. As a result of that decision, for the first time the Supreme Court provided detailed guidance to litigants on the elements required to establish a claim under the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution: a substantial risk of serious harm and the Farmer decision provides a detailed guideline to lawyers on the requirements to show a constitutional violation. This decision continues to offer the most significant guidance on whether the allegations of a prisoner, if proven, would meet the required standard for relief.
Ms. Alexander also served as lead counsel in litigation challenging conditions of confinement in two California prisons for women that resulted in a finding that the conditions in both violated the Constitution with regard to health care. That decision subsequently helped pave the way for the Supreme Court’s later decision that the California prison system as a whole was violating the Eighth Amendment by denying needed health care to prisoners. In another class action involving most of the state prisons in Pennsylvania, Ms. Alexander successfully argued for a preliminary injunction regarding health care issues, including exposure to dangerous diseases. Ultimately, the prison officials agreed to settle the entire case without additional litigation.
Among Ms. Alexander’s other significant cases is a case in which the full Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a finding of the district court that shackling a prisoner during the delivery of her child did not violate her rights, even though the prisoner suffered significant pain and mental anguish from her treatment by the medical staff. Indeed, the delivery may have also resulted in injuries to the child. This decision, the first of its kind, was followed by several other federal courts issuing similar decisions.
Also among Ms. Alexander’s cases was a case in which a female prisoner was awarded damages when a correctional officer performed a same-sex partial strip search in an area where other prisoners and staff could observe the encounter. In addition, the warden placed the prisoner in a cell that was not equipped to deal with her disabilities resulting from lupus, which had caused the amputation of both her legs. A favorable decision in the District Court was affirmed by the Sixth Circuit on appeal. In another case, Ms. Alexander successfully argued that the prisoner had been denied necessary medical care. The prisoner was eventually awarded $200,000 for the strip search and the two-week stay in segregation and an additional award of damages regarding the prisoner’s medical care in which the settlement amount was not publicly disclosed. In another case involving the Michigan prison system, the judge prohibited the use of mechanical restraints within cells except under medical supervision. In yet another Michigan case, the Court approved a settlement making significant changes in the system of prison discipline.
In a case in Hawaii, the State agreed to a comprehensive settlement upgrading conditions in multiple areas. A case in Delaware resulted in a consent decree remedying medical care, physical plant issues, and access to required legal services. A later order added additional restrictions on overcrowding and provisions for tuberculosis control.
In a case from South Dakota, Ms. Alexander negotiated a settlement that addressed physical plant, overcrowding, medical and psychiatric care, as well as access to courts.
In a case in the District of Columbia’s local court, Ms. Alexander worked with the firm of Covington & Burling and the District of Columbia Public Defender Service to comprehensively address problems with conditions of confinement, including exposure to COVID, within the District’s juvenile facilities.
In Caldwell v. District of Columbia, Ms. Alexander served as co-counsel in a jury trial that resulted in a verdict of $175,000 in actual and punitive damages for the inappropriate treatment of a prisoner in the local prison facility.
In addition to Ms. Alexander’s litigation, she has also taught prison law at the University of Texas Law School, the University of Southern California, and the University of Wisconsin Law School. Among her other activities, she was elected to serve as the President of the ACLU affiliate in Wisconsin for a one-year term. She was also selected to serve on the American Bar Association’s Subcommittee on the Prison Litigation Reform Act and its Task Force on Standards for the Treatment of Prisoners. She was elected to membership in the American Law Institute in 2011. She has also served on the Advisory Board for FedCURE, a leading advocacy group for prison reform.
Ms. Alexander has published in a number of law journals and reviews, including the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law; the University of Texas Law Review; the University of Southern California Law Review; the University of California-Irvine Law Review; and Constitutional Commentary, among others. Violence and that noted the problems created by the increasingly pervasive operations of prisons and jails by private for-profit companies.
In addition, Ms. Alexander has spoken at many universities and colleges, including Harvard Law School, Yale Law School, Stanford Law School, Columbia Law School, the University of California-Irvine Law School, the University of Michigan Law School, and the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Sections of her article in the University of Texas Law Review were reprinted in the 1985 Civil Rights Litigation and Attorneys’ Fees General Handbook.
Ms. Alexander has also been an invited participant in a number of conferences regarding international criminal justice policy, including conferences in Great Britain, France, Nigeria, Switzerland, and Israel.
Ms. Alexander continues to litigate on behalf of prisoners and jail detainees and looks forward to additional litigation opportunities. She is grateful to her current and former colleagues and continues to work for improvement in the nation’s prisons and jails.
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