Thursday, April 29, 2010

Rio resident found not guilty in nursing home sexual assault case - PORTAGE DAILY REGISTER


By Shannon Green, Daily Register | Posted: Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Three not-guilty verdicts produced tears and hugs of relief on the part of defense attorneys and supporters of a Rio man accused of sexual assault in 2007 of three patients in a nursing home.

After deliberating for an hour and 15 minutes, a jury of seven men and five women Wednesday unanimously found Kurt Johnson, 51, who faced 75 years in prison on three felony sexual assault charges, not guilty on all counts.

Defense attorney Erik Guenther of Madison reacted visibly and emotionally as Judge James O. Miller read the verdicts at the end of the three-day trial.

Guenther reacted, he said, "because an obviously innocent man waited way too long to hear those two words (not guilty)."

It was a case that should never have been prosecuted, Guenther said.

Defense attorney Stephen Hurley of Madison characterized Johnson as "a sweet man" who was targeted by co-workers wanting to get him fired because Johnson, a nursing assistant, was slow-working due to a medical condition.

"What you have are three people who wanted him fired, wanted him out of there," Hurley said during the hearing.

Bonnie Priebbenow, a friend of Johnson's, said his friends and family members could not be happier with the verdicts.

"Anyone that knows him knows he was innocent," she said.

The verdict came at the end of a three-day trial in Columbia County Circuit Court.

Johnson was charged in November 2008 with three counts of felony second-degree sexual assault of a patient in a treatment facility after three co-workers at the Golden Living Center in Wisconsin Dells reported they saw him fondle three patients' breasts in late 2007.

The incidents were reported to the Wisconsin Department of Justice after an investigation by the Department of Health and Family Services, which received a report from the facility in December 2007, said prosecutor Eric Defort, assistant attorney general, in December 2008. The department handles cases involving facilities receiving Medicaid funds.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Students learn rights, how to interact with police at Mifflin - THE DAILY CARDINAL

By Grace Urban

As the annual Mifflin Street Block Party approaches, students were given the opportunity Tuesday to learn how to conduct themselves should they be confronted by law enforcement.

Erik Guenther, an attorney with Hurley, Burish and Stanton, S.C., spoke with students at the Know Your Rights workshop. The event was organized by the American Civil Liberties Union and was the second this semester.

Guenther said there are three basic rules students should follow when attending the block party: be polite to police officers, never lie to them and make no statement without a lawyer present.

“Your chances of being convicted of a crime go up if you give the police something to convict you,” he said. “You can’t get charged with obstruction [of justice] for lying if you never say a word.”

Guenther said there are basic laws every student should be aware of.

“You’re not allowed to say, ‘I didn’t know that was against the law’ [in your defense],” he said.

Guenther added it is important to remember that citizens are under no obligation to speak with police or let them into their home or apartment without just cause or a warrant.

“You never have to let them in,” he said. “Just say no.”

Partygoers should be careful to follow the rules and not attract attention to themselves if they want to avoid being arrested, Guenther said.

“The police have limited resources, and they’re going to single out people that stand out to them,” he said. “So make sure you’re at least the second-drunkest person [there].”

The three main rules for the block party are not to have open alcohol, not to hold glass bottles and not to urinate publicly, he said. Guenther left attendees with one final thought: “Be polite, assert your rights.”

Friday, April 02, 2010

Transgender inmates freed from hormone lockdown - SALON.COM

A Wisconsin law banning gender therapy is overturned
By Sady Doyle

A Wisconsin law banning transgender inmates from receiving taxpayer-funded hormone therapy in prison has been struck down. The ruling represents a substantial victory for the five transgender women (that is, women born with "male" genitalia who identify and live as female) who pressed the case, and for transgender inmates in general -- but experts stressed to Broadsheet that having access to hormone therapy is not the only serious issue facing incarcerated trans people.

In a phone interview, Harper Jean Tobin, the National Center for Transgender Equality's policy counsel, explained there's a growing recognition that "hormone therapy is medically necessary for transgender people. It's not cosmetic, it's a serious medical need." That much is apparent from looking at the case: Andrea Fields, one of the plaintiffs in the case, had her hormone dosage cut in half, and reported "nausea, weakness, loss of appetite and hair growth," as the Washington Post reports.

Aside from the physical effects of having one's body chemistry rapidly changed, transgender authors and advocates consistently stress that being unable to bring one's body in line with one's gender identity can be deeply traumatic. Which is why mandating access to hormones for trans prisoners is, according to Tobin, "increasingly settled law." "We have a constitutional commitment to providing adequate health care to people who are in prison, regardless of their offense and regardless of their identity," said Tobin. The Wisconsin law was apparently unique, and was struck down specifically because it violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

But, again, healthcare is not the only issue at play. Even for inmates who are able to keep their bodies in line with their gender identities, the way that inmates are sorted into women's or men's prisons -- according to which medical procedures they've had, or what sort of genitalia they possessed at birth -- can lead to transgender women being incarcerated in men's prisons, and vice versa. Citing the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, Tobin says "the hard and fast rules that are used to classify transgender inmates often subject them to greater danger" -- namely sexual and physical abuse. Imagine being the only girl in the men's prison. It's not pretty.

Gabriel Arkles, an attorney at the Silvia Rivera Law Project who works directly with transgender inmates, made the same point. "Most of the violence that trans people experience in prison is actually perpetrated by prison staff," he said. And then, according to Arkles, there is the fact that
"trans people, particularly trans people of color, are disproportionately incarcerated because of discrimination, poverty, police profiling, and bias in court proceedings."

So, having one more state in which hormone access for transgender inmates is mandated is a big step. But it's not a cure-all. For one, someone could convince the Washington Post not to refer to the transgender women in the case as "male inmates." That might help.

Judge: Transgender inmates have right to therapy - THE WASHINGON POST

By RYAN J. FOLEY
The Associated Press
Thursday, April 1, 2010; 5:52 PM

MADISON, Wis. -- A federal judge has struck down a unique Wisconsin law that prohibits transgender inmates from receiving taxpayer-funded hormone therapy, which alters their appearance to be more like that of the opposite sex.

A group of male inmates who identify as female had challenged the 2006 law with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin and Lambda Legal, a national gay rights group. They say they need the hormones to treat their gender identity disorder, and not having them would lead to severe health problems.

"It's a victory for these inmates who have a condition that is misunderstood and vilified for political purposes that can be very serious," Larry Dupuis, an ACLU lawyer who represented the plaintiffs, said Thursday. "To take away a whole class of treatment just because it's politically disfavored is not constitutional."

While similar prison policies in other states have been challenged successfully, the ACLU and Lambda Legal said the law was the only one of its kind in the nation that denied such medical care to transgender inmates.

Lawmakers who wrote the measure, declared unconstitutional and unenforceable Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Charles Clevert, reacted with outrage and urged Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to appeal. They warned the decision would open the door for taxpayer-funded sex changes for inmates, which the law had also blocked.

"This ruling puts a higher priority on helping inmate Tommy become Tammy than protecting the pocketbooks of law-abiding citizens," said Rep. Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford. "This is a travesty of justice that must be overturned."

Clevert said the law violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment because it "results in the denial of hormone therapy without regard for the individual medical needs of inmates and the medical judgment of their health-care providers." He added "there is no rational basis" for the law, which he said also violates their equal protection rights.

Clevert had issued a temporary order weeks after the law went into effect blocking prison officials from ending the therapy for inmates already receiving hormones during the lawsuit.

The law bans tax dollars from being used for inmates' hormone therapy and sexual reassignment surgery. Lawmakers approved it with bipartisan support and Gov. Jim Doyle signed it into law after an inmate who had received hormone therapy filed a lawsuit to try to force the prison to pay for his sex change.

Before the law went into effect, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections occasionally had approved hormone therapy for inmates its doctors diagnosed as having gender identity disorder. Dupuis estimated that only a handful of inmates receive the therapy at any given time.

Some of the plaintiffs had been on hormones for years before the law was passed. They included Andrea Fields, who had taken hormones since 1996. Before the law was blocked, the inmate's hormone dosage was cut in half, which led to nausea, weakness, loss of appetite and hair growth, according to court records.

Clevert, appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1995, didn't address whether banning sex-change surgery was also unconstitutional in his three-page order and promised to issue a decision soon to elaborate.

Sen. Ted Kanavas, R-Brookfield, one of the measure's sponsors, called the ruling absurd.

"This is another prime example of a liberal judge, far removed from the mainstream, overturning the will of the people," he said in a statement.

Van Hollen spokesman Bill Cosh said lawyers were reviewing the decision and considering an appeal.

If the ruling stands, taxpayers will likely be required to pay the inmates' legal fees, which Dupuis called substantial.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Federal Judge Strikes State-Law Ban on Hormone Treatment for Transgendered Inmates - AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION JOURNAL (ABA JOURNAL)

April 1, 2010
By Martha Neil

Setting the stage for an appellate court showdown, a federal judge in Wisconsin has struck down as unconstitutional a state law that reportedly is the only one in the nation banning prison inmates who were born biologically male but identify as female from receiving hormone therapy.

The law violates the equal protection clause and is an unconstitutional form of cruel and unusual punishment, explained U.S. District Judge Charles Clevert in a brief written order yesterday. That is because it denies hormone therapy without considering individual inmates' medical needs or the judgment of their doctors, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Outraged legislators who drafted the law promised to urge the state attorney general to appeal Clevert's ruling. If it stands, the state likely will have to pay substantial attorney fees to the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin and the Lambda Legal national gay rights group, which represented the plaintiff inmate group, reports the Associated Press.

"It's a victory for these inmates who have a condition that is misunderstood and vilified for political purposes that can be very serious," says ACLU attorney Larry Dupuis, who represents the plaintiffs. "To take away a whole class of treatment just because it's politically disfavored is not constitutional."

It isn't clear from Calvert's order whether it is also unconstitutional for the prison system to ban surgical treatment of transgendered inmates. However, he has promised a more detailed opinion soon.

Federal court rules transgender people must be allowed medical treatment in prison - SAN DIEGO GAY AND LESBIAN NEWS

SDGLN Staff | Thu, 04/01/2010 - 11:38am |

MILWAUKEE -- The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin yesterday struck down a law that barred transgender people from receiving medical care while they are incarcerated.

The ACLU and Lambda Legal brought a challenge in January 2006 to the law on behalf of transgender prisoners, some of whom had been receiving hormones in Wisconsin prisons for years prior to the passage of the law.

"The court understood that medical treatment is critical for transgender people and that medical decisions should be made by doctors - not legislators," said Dru Levasseur, Lambda Legal's transgender rights attorney. "The state cannot decide to withhold treatment from people because they disapprove of their gender identity or medical needs - it's unconstitutional."

Overriding concerns raised by of the Department of Corrections medical personnel, the Wisconsin legislature passed a law, effective in January 2006, that prohibited prison doctors from deciding the best course of treatment for transgender people by barring them from prescribing any type of hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgery for transgender people in state custody.

"This decision recognizes that many inmates have a serious medical condition that requires individualized medical treatment. The court's ruling doesn't require inmates to receive hormones or surgery for sex reassignment, it simply means that doctors are the ones who make the decisions about treatment," said John Knight of the ACLU. "The court's decision is just common sense."

The lawsuit charged that it is a violation of the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection as well as the guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment to bar transgender inmates from access to individualized medical care. The legal groups base their challenge on federal case law that establishes that health care providers must determine proper treatment for all prison inmates.

The court ruled that the statute's ban on medical care "constitutes deliberate indifference to the plaintiff's serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment inasmuch as enforcement of the statute results in the denial of hormone therapy without regard for the individual medical needs of inmates and the medical judgment of their health care providers."

According to the ACLU and Lambda Legal, Wisconsin is the only state in the country to have enacted a law denying transgender people access to medical care while in state custody. The legal team includes John Knight, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT Project, Larry Dupuis, Legal Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, Cole Thaler and Dru Levasseur, former and current Transgender Rights Project Attorneys of Lambda Legal, and cooperating attorney Erik Guenther of Hurley, Burish & Stanton, S.C.

Sex-change drugs a right, judge says - MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL

State law limiting inmates overruled
By Bruce Vielmetti of the Journal Sentinel

A federal judge has struck down a Wisconsin law that prohibits prison inmates from getting hormone therapy to treat gender identity disorder.

U.S. District Judge Charles N. Clevert Jr., who presided over a civil trial challenging the law in 2007, issued a ruling late Wednesday and declared the statute unconstitutional on several grounds. Clevert's order indicated a longer memorandum decision would follow.

In early 2006, Clevert had issued a preliminary injunction to allow the hormone therapy to continue.

In Wednesday's order, Clevert found that the law amounts to "deliberate indifference to the plaintiffs' serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment," because it denies hormone therapy without regard to those needs or doctors' judgments. He found the law unconstitutional on its face and also in violation of the inmates' rights to equal protection.

"We're very excited about it," said Laurence Dupuis, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation, which represented the three named plaintiffs in the case. Lambda Legal, a national advocacy group, was also part of the plaintiffs' legal team.

"There have been other states with policies similar in ways to this and that were generally struck down or settled, but this was the first one with a statute passed by a legislature," Dupuis said.

Another ACLU attorney on the case, John Knight, called the decision common sense.

"The court's ruling doesn't require inmates to receive hormones or surgery for sex reassignment," Knight said. "It simply means that doctors are the ones who make the decisions about treatment."

He estimated that fewer than a dozen inmates are affected.

State lawmakers passed the Sex Change Prevention Act in 2005 in reaction to the case of a Wisconsin inmate who had been receiving the hormones for years, but sued when the Department of Corrections would not pay for sex-change surgery. Similar challenges were mounted in other states.

Though Clevert's ruling doesn't address surgery, Dupuis said he thinks the ruling supports the principle that any medical care in prisons must be based on medical judgment, which means the surgery would at least be theoretically possible.

But Dupuis said the case has broader implications.

"It's important to transgendered inmates, but also for other people in the system who have conditions that are unpopular and on which politicians might think they could make hay," he said.

State Rep. Mark Gundrum (R-New Berlin), a co-sponsor of the Sex Change Prevention Act, said he expects Clevert's ruling will be appealed.

"There's no way the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment actually requires that taxpayers fund sex change operations for prisoners," he said.

Rep. Scott Suder (R-Abbotsford), another sponsor of the law, called Clevert's ruling "a travesty of justice" that should be appealed immediately.

"This ruling puts a higher priority on helping inmate Tommy become Tammy than protecting the pocketbooks of law abiding citizens," Suder said.

Bill Cosh, speaking for the Department of Justice, said the agency is reviewing the matter for possible appeal.

Wisconsin federal court says transgender people must be allowed medical treatment in prison

ACLU of Wisconsin: Wisconsin federal court says transgender people must be allowed medical treatment in prison
4/1/2010

CONTACT:
Larry Dupuis, (414) 272-4032 ext 12, ldupuis@acluwi.org
Paul Cates, (212) 549-2568, pcates@aclu.org

MILWAUKEE, WI The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin Wednesday struck down a law that barred transgender people from receiving medical care while they are incarcerated. The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal challenged the law in January 2006 on behalf of transgender prisoners, some of whom had been receiving hormones in Wisconsin prisons for years prior to the passage of the law.

This decision recognizes that many transgender prisoners require individualized medical treatment. While the court’s ruling does not require any particular treatment, it does mean that doctors are the ones who make these medical decisions, said John Knight, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT Project. The court’s decision is just common sense.

Overriding concerns raised by of the Department of Corrections medical personnel, the Wisconsin legislature passed a law, effective in January 2006, that prohibited prison doctors from deciding the best course of treatment for transgender people by barring them from prescribing any type of hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgery for transgender people in state custody.

The court understood that medical treatment is critical for transgender people and that medical decisions should be made by doctors not legislators, said Dru Levasseur, Lambda Legal’s Transgender Rights attorney. The state cannot decide to withhold treatment from people because they disapprove of their gender identity or medical needs it’s unconstitutional.

The lawsuit charged that it is a violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection as well as the guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment to bar transgender inmates from access to individualized medical care. The legal groups based their challenge on federal case law that establishes that health care providers must determine proper treatment for all prison inmates.

The court ruled that the statute’s ban on medical care constitutes deliberate indifference to the plaintiff’s serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment inasmuch as enforcement of the statute results in the denial of hormone therapy without regard for the individual medical needs of inmates and the medical judgment of their health care providers.

According to the ACLU and Lambda Legal, Wisconsin is the only state in the country to have enacted a law denying transgender people access to medical care while in state custody. The legal team includes John Knight, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT Project; Larry Dupuis, Legal Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin; Cole Thaler and Levasseur, former and current Transgender Rights Project attorneys at Lambda Legal and cooperating attorney Erik Guenther of Hurley, Burish & Stanton, S.C.

A copy of the court’s order and additional information about the case is available at www.aclu.org/caseprofiles or www.lambdalegal.org.

The ACLU of Wisconsin has approximately 9,000 members who support its efforts to defend the civil liberties and civil rights of all Wisconsin residents. For more on the work of the ACLU of Wisconsin, visit our webpage. You can also get news and opinion on civil liberties in Wisconsin on our Cap City Liberty blog. Find us on Facebook and Twitter at ACLUMadison and ACLUofWisconsin.