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Gerhardstein & Branch filed Obergefell v. Hodges on July 19, 2013.  The case will be heard in the United States Supreme Court this term along with Henry v. Hodges, also from our office, and four other cases from the Sixth Circuit.

Jim Obergefell

Jim Obergefell (pictured on right) met the love of his life, John Arthur, in 1992 in Cincinnati. The couple made a life together here—working, renovating homes, collecting art, traveling, and enjoying time with friends and family.

John was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, in 2011. After the Windsor decision striking down part of the federal government’s discriminatory law against same-sex married couples in 2013, the couple decided to make their commitment official. On July 11, 2013, through the loving efforts of their friends and family, Jim and John were able to fly on a medically equipped airplane to Maryland. While the plane sat on the tarmac and John was on a hospital gurney inside the plane, they were married in a ceremony officiated by John’s aunt. The couple sought the comfort of knowing that when John died his death certificate would not indicate that he was unmarried. John wanted the last legal record of his life to reflect his love and commitment to Jim. The district court granted the Plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction, and after John Arthur died on October 22, 2013, his death certificate was issued stating that he was married and that his “surviving spouse” is Jim Obergefell. The district court was overturned by the Sixth Circuit, and therefore John’s death certificate stands to be amended, potentially erasing Jim from this important record.

Jim carries John with him in his heart and knows that John is watching over him as he continues this legal struggle they started together—all the way to the Supreme Court!

David Michener

David Brian Michener (pictured on left) and William Herbert Ives were committed partners for 18 years. They adopted three children and raised them together in Cincinnati. The family owned a second home in Delaware where they enjoyed summers together near the beach. On July 22, 2013, the couple was married in Delaware shortly after same-sex marriage was authorized by the Delaware legislature. Just over one month after the wedding, William unexpectedly died of natural causes. He left behind David and the couple’s three kids, Anna-13, Jackson-10, and Michael-3. In the wake of this terrible loss, David Michener joined the lawsuit already started by Jim Obergefell and James Arthur. He sought a death certificate for William that reflected the true nature of William’s identity. Now, the ultimate fate of that death certificate, which does now read that William was married to David, is in the Supreme Court’s hands. David, Anna, Jackson, and Michael hope that the Court rules that the State of Ohio must recognize loving families like theirs.

Robert Grunn

Robert Grunn is the owner of a funeral home in Cincinnati. In his capacity as a funeral director, he is responsible for submitting death certificate information to the state. Robert joined the Obergefell lawsuit as a plaintiff so that he could be secure in his decision to afford grieving married same-sex couples the dignity and respect they deserve by acknowledging their marriages when reporting deaths to the state. As a gay man himself, Robert is excited that the Supreme Court will be deciding the important issue of marriage equality this term.

Henry-Rogers Family

The Henry-Rogers family welcomed their first child, a son named Jayseon, to the world in 2014. When Brittani Henry was pregnant with Jayseon, the couple sued  because they wanted to ensure that both of Jayseon’s parents would have equal status as his parents in their beloved home-state of Ohio. The Henry-Rogers couple believes that Ohio’s denial of the true nature of their family demeans and harms them and their son, and they hope the Supreme Court will put a stop to that harm by Jayseon’s first birthday.

The Yorksmith Family

Pam and Nicole Yorksmith were married on October 14, 2008, in California. They combined their last names “York” and “Smith” so that when they had children the whole family would share the same name.  In October 2010, Nicole gave birth to their first son, Grayden. In June 2014, the family welcomed their second son, Orion, to the world. The Yorksmith couple has arranged various legal protections for their family that an opposite-sex married couple does not have to do such as establishing medical powers of attorney so that if one of them is sick hospitals will hopefully recognize them as family. The Yorksmith couple is excited that the Supreme Court of the United States is taking up this case because they hope the Court will rule that their marriage deserves the same dignity and protection as opposite-sex marriages.

Noe-McCracken Family

From the very beginning of their relationship, Kelly Noe and Kelly McCracken discussed having children.  They were married in May 2011 in Massachusetts, and two years later, Kelly Noe was pregnant with their first child.  Ruby Louise Noe-McCracken was born in June of 2014 in Ohio. As a result of this lawsuit, Ruby’s birth certificate does list both of her parents, but because of the Sixth Circuit’s decision, the birth certificate is threatened to be amended to remove Kelly McCracken’s name. The Noe-McCracken family hopes the Supreme Court will overturn the Sixth Circuit’s decision so that Ruby’s family will be afforded the same treatment as a family headed by an opposite-sex married couple.

Marriage equality is important to the Noe-McCracken family because Ruby deserves legal recognition of both of her mothers who love her dearly.

Vitale-Talmas Family

Joe Vitale and Rob Talmas have been in a happy and committed relationship since they met in 1997, and were married in New York in 2011. They both have large, supportive families and they always wanted children of their own. In 2013, their beloved son Cooper was born. Joe and Rob were there in the Ohio hospital to welcome Cooper into the world, and they have never wanted to leave his side since. To the couple’s surprise, after they took Cooper home to New York and his adoption was final, Ohio refused to recognize both of Cooper’s dads on his birth certificate like they would do for an opposite-sex married couple. Ohio asked them to choose only one dad for Cooper. The Vitale-Talmas family is hopeful that the Supreme Court will see that both of Cooper’s parents should be recognized on his birth certificate because Cooper should not be singled out by Ohio due to the gender of his parents.

March 12, 2015, (Louisville, KY) — In a settlement announced today, the Louisville Metro Government has agreed to pay $1.5 million to four young African American men who were racially profiled, falsely arrested and falsely imprisoned last March for crimes they did not commit.  The four young men were represented by Gerhardstein & Branch along with Nick Brustin and local counsel Larry Simon and Jan Waddell.

“While we are grateful that we have reached a settlement on behalf of our clients, we remain troubled that the Louisville police continue to use discredited witness identification procedures that are known to produce bad results, especially when white victims are identifying black suspects,” said Nick Brustin, a partner with the civil rights law firm of Neufeld, Scheck and Brustin based in New York. “These false arrests were a result of the same unconstitutional identification practices that we uncovered in previous litigation in Louisville– practices which not only have been condemned by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, but which the police promised had ended in connection with our prior settlements.”

In June 2014 a Jefferson County grand jury declined to indict the “misidentified four,” as they were dubbed by supporters.  But the arrest upended the lives of the young men – causing them to lose their jobs and fall behind on bills, derailing college plans for one and causing another to miss the birth of his first son. The incident has also further sown distrust of police in the black community at a time when police misconduct is the focus of a national conversation.

“Being wrongfully accused is pretty much a living nightmare,” said 21-year-old Craig Dean, who not only lost his job but had his car repossessed while he was in jail. “This day is really important to me and my cousins because finally we can prove to the world that we’re innocent.  All we want now is to go on with our lives and pursue our dreams, just like anyone else.”

“This settlement recognizes that the arrests of these young men should not have happened, and our clients and their family now want to make sure it never happens again,” added Al Gerhardstein, a civil rights attorney based on Cincinnati and co-counsel for the plaintiffs. “We call on the Metro Police to make good on their promise to mend their ways. They could start by making an apology to these blameless young men.”

The case arose on March 22, 2014, when Tyrone Booker Jr., Craig Dean, Jerron Bush and Shaquazz Allen – all cousins – were sitting on the front porch of Jerron’s home.  A police car approached and an officer asked them to line up on the sidewalk.  Moments later, while a police cruiser shone a bright light in their faces and they shielded their eyes, two white robbery victims sitting in the back of the cruiser drove by and identified them. All four men were arrested despite the fact that their clothing did not match the victim’s descriptions and the victims only identified some, but not all, of the men as perpetrators.

To make matters worse, after the young men’s photos were shown on the news that night, two other crime victims called police to accuse Tyrone and Shaquazz of attacking them during an incident of mob violence in downtown Louisville. The same day Tyrone and Shaquazz were released on bail for the robbery they did not commit, they were arrested for an assault they did not commit and spent months in jail.  Cell phone records would later show they were nowhere near the scene of the assault.

“There is no excuse for this wrongful arrest, but there are steps Louisville can take to make sure this does not happen again,” said Louisville co-counsel Larry Simon.  “Specifically, the police should simply follow their own identification procedures.  Co-counsel Jan Waddell, also of Louisville, added, “We proved through cell phone records in the criminal case that these boys were not near the crime scene.  If that strong evidence had not been available these suggestive identifications would have ruined their lives forever.”

Scientific studies have given an increasingly clear picture of the various factors that influence the accuracy of witness identifications.  Just last week, The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing recommended that law enforcement agencies adopt identification procedures that implement scientifically supported practices that eliminate or minimize the chances of presenter bias or influence.

March 9, 2015, Al Gerhardstein testified in front of Governor Kaisch’s task force on community police relations.  He lifted up Cincinnati’s history and progress as lessons the state can draw from.  He made seven concrete recommendations based on the Cincinnati experience.  Read his testimony here.

Cincinnati, OH, February 27, 2015. Today Cincinnati law firm Gerhardstein & Branch, along with Lambda Legal, and the ACLU, filed their brief  in the United States Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges and Henry v. Hodges arguing that Ohio’s ban on recognizing the legal marriages of same-sex couples violates the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

The brief argues that it is unreasonable for states to adopt a “wait and see” attitude towards the potential long-range consequences of allowing same-sex couples to marry or of recognizing those marriages. Al Gerhardstein, counsel of record from Gerhardstein & Branch, said, “Ohio has become an island of intolerance for same-sex couples. Crossing into Ohio annuls the marriages of same-sex couples from thirty-seven states where they are permitted. This is outrageous and must stop. We argue in the brief that the 2013 Supreme Court ruling in US v. Windsor requires Ohio to recognize marriages from other states. It is exciting that the case will be heard this term. Love can’t wait.”

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Cincinnati, Ohio. February 24, 2015. The families of Karen Range, Charlene Appling and Angel Hicks have settled their claims against County officials in the lawsuit alleging negligent supervision of Kenneth Douglas who served as a morgue attendant from 1976 until 1992. During that time he sexually abused bodies in the morgue, including the loved ones of these three families. The families cooperated in the prosecution of Kenneth Douglas who was convicted of felonies and has served time in prison.

The details of the settlement are not in final form but it will include payment of $800,000.00 to the families. Additional non-economic terms will also be announced when they are determined. Kenneth Douglas is in default and the families will pursue damages from him in the amount of $2,450,000.00.

Al Gerhardstein, one of the counsel for the families stated, “The sexual abuse of the bodies of these young women in the Morgue was shocking and horrible. The families have fought for justice since they first discovered the abuse six years ago. They were ready for trial but are satisfied that the settlement, including the non-economic terms will help all of them find some peace.”  Other counsel representing the families are Jennifer Branch, Art Harmon, and Joe Hutson.

Contact: Al Gerhardstein: 513-621-9100, cell 513-659-4765.

Litigation documents can be found here.

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