WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday reinstated a $625,000 judgment against Ohio prison officials who did nothing to prevent a guard’s sexual assault of an inmate and then punished the victim.
The justices unanimously agreed that a federal appeals court was wrong to throw out the award to Michelle Ortiz. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati had “no warrant” to override the jury’s verdict.
Ortiz was serving 12 months at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in November 2002 when she reported that a male guard fondled her breasts and warned, “I’ll get you tomorrow, watch.” He did, returning when Ortiz was asleep to molest her again.
When Ortiz discussed the attacks with other inmates, she was shackled and sent to solitary confinement.
But the appeals court found by a 2-1 vote that one official, Paula Jordan, could not be held liable even though she did not take immediate action when Ortiz reported the first incident. The court said the other official, Rebecca Bright, did not violate Ortiz’s rights by sending her to solitary confinement. A dissenting judge called the outcome “a legal travesty.”
Bright and Jordan tried to get the case against them dismissed before the trial. A judge refused to do so and they did not appeal then. The legal issue in the case is whether they could wait until after the trial to appeal the judge’s ruling.
The Supreme Court said they could not.
Justices Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas agreed that the appeals court made a mistake, but they would have sent the case back to that court to consider other issues.
The Associated Press normally does not name victims of alleged sexual abuse. In this case, her attorney, David E. Mills of Cleveland, said she could be identified publicly.
The case is Ortiz v. Jordan and Bright, 09-737.
In another matter involving the rights of prisoners, The Supreme Court agreed to consider whether investigators must give an inmate his Miranda rights before questioning him on matters unrelated to what landed him behind bars.
The justices on Monday said they will hear Michigan’s appeal of a court ruling in favor of Randall Fields, who acknowledged to sheriff’s deputies that he had sexual contact with a minor. The admission took place during an interview in the same building where Fields was jailed on unrelated charges.
The deputies never advised Fields he could be silent or have a lawyer, hallmarks of the Miranda warning for criminal suspects. They did tell him he could leave when he wanted.
Arguments will take place later this year.
That case is Howes v. Fields, 10-680.