Judge Arthur Spiegel died at age 94 on December 31, 2014. The Cincinnati Enquirer published a column by Al Gerhardstein honoring Judge Spiegel’s many contributions to civil rights in Ohio:
It was shocking. Lou was dashing and exciting. And he had a head wound from a mysterious, secret life. Kathy was his nurse at the hospital. She did not know Lou was an undercover agent working for Hamilton County. Kathy loved the flowers, the sex and then the government-supplied drugs.
Entrapped like several other nurses, she was convicted and then sentenced to prison. Kathy committed suicide on her first day in jail. It was 1981. Judge Arthur Spiegel was new on the federal bench. The legal issues were complicated. Can anyone sue for the death of a person who commits suicide? Is the county liable for the unorthodox actions of an undercover agent? I had little experience. I was a cub lawyer. But I had to try. Kathy’s mom wanted these practices exposed and ended.
Judge Spiegel guided the case expertly and in the end a consent decree was entered banning the use of sex and the donation of drugs to suspects in criminal investigations. The judge showed me that we really can impose meaningful reform through civil rights litigation.
The prison system was next for Spiegel, who died Wednesday at 94. Over the years Spiegel banned race discrimination in prison mess halls; banned race discrimination in cell assignments; ended the use of high-pressure water hoses to control inmates at the maximum-security Southern Ohio Correctional Facility; ordered that an exercise pod be built at SOCF; and presided over the civil rights trial that followed the longest and most deadly prison riot in U.S. history, the Easter 1993 riot at SOCF. Spiegel knew that facts mattered. One time he flew his plane to Lucasville and allowed himself to be locked in a solitary confinement cell to fully understand the conditions of confinement that we were challenging.
He approached the issue of gay rights with the same openness to full exploration of the facts. Our trial challenging the anti-gay Cincinnati charter amendment known as Issue 3 in 1993 was one of the very first detailed examinations of what it meant to be gay. Spiegel heard from historians, psychologists, political scientists, individuals who suffered housing and employment discrimination, and partners who faced many obstacles raising their children. He thoroughly studied all aspects of the gay experience. His ruling striking down the charter amendment stands as one of the most thoughtful and convincing judicial rulings backing equality for LGBTQ people in American jurisprudence.
Police use of force was an important issue to the judge. He denied the city of Cincinnati’s motion to dismiss the Timothy Thomas case “the shooting that led to the 2001 disturbance. Spiegel’s ruling helped lead to the new foot pursuit policy that was folded into the collaborative reforms. Recently the judge presided over the McGinnis case, which challenged as excessive the tasing Corey McGinnis received in the chest, resulting in his death. The settlement of that action resulted in a change in policy for North College Hill. Judge Spiegel routinely met with and listened to the families in these types of cases, and it helped them accept the results that were achieved in the litigation.
I already miss the judge. He was quick with a smile because he so thoroughly enjoyed his work. He also was witty. I remember once as I was trying to describe a convoluted set of facts involving my client and the police, the judge started laughing at how absurd the situation was and he had all counsel at the table joining in with full belly laughs.
In later years he took up painting. A scene he painted at Spring Grove cemetery hangs in my office. It is very peaceful. If ever a man earned a peaceful rest it is Spiegel. He worked hard until he died. If we each in our lifetimes accomplish half as much as this man we could right all the wrongs in this world. He heard the calls from the corner “from those on the margins of power “and he answered them in a way that will stay with me forever. Good night, mentor. Good night, judge.