Civil clinic wins civil rights, torts case

August 28, 2014

Moritz’s Civil Law Clinic, which provides law students the opportunity to represent clients in pending civil cases, recently won a creative civil-rights-tort suit against the state of Ohio for an incarcerated client Jane Doe (her name has been anonymized because of the nature of the suit). According to the suit, the Ohio prison system consistently failed to treat the HIV+ client’s medical records with the care required, and as a result, the entire prison learned of her HIV status, with many ostracizing and publicly castigating her. This breach led to Ms. Doe falling into severe depression, which fundamentally compromised her ability to function while serving her life sentence. Last week, the Court of Claims ruled in favor of the client, vindicating her interest in the form of admonishment of prison practices and a damages sum.

“It goes to show how persistent and creative lawyering has the power to vindicate rights of the most marginalized,” said Assistant Professor Amna Akbar, who teaches in the Civil Law Clinic. “Ms. Doe was very pleased with the quality of the work from our students and the respect they afford her, always treating her like a partner in the process.”

Four generations of clinic students worked on the case, passing the torch semester to semester, visiting the client, keeping her spirits up, listening, counseling, researching, writing, litigating, and taking careful notes to share with the next team of students.

“Our students discussed issues big and small – Which forum should we file in? Do the local rules say anything about page margins? What are the state’s obligations toward the incarcerated? Are there particular issues at stake with incarcerated women? Given how dehumanized incarcerated people are in the public and legal imagination, how do we humanize our client and our witnesses (all incarcerated) for the judge? – They worked hard, and they worked as a team,” Akbar added.

Christina Marino ’13 and Marisol Aguilar ’13 performed the initial fact investigation of the conditions at the Ohio Reformatory for Women, researching potential claims and filing the suit. Katarina Karac ’13 and Cory Helffrich ’13 started the discovery process; Andrew Ashbrook ’14 and Abby Brothers ’14 took depositions and helped to secure other incarcerated women as witnesses for the trial; and Ashbrook, along with Kyle Shelton ’14, and David Plumb ’14, prepared for and then conducted a three-day bench trial – two days in the prison, one day downtown – before Magistrate Anderson M. Rennick. The clinic co-counseled the case with David Singleton at the Ohio Justice & Policy Center, and students in his Constitutional Litigation Clinic at Northern Kentucky University’s Chase School of Law.