By: Alex Temple, ARB Archivist
The University of Cincinnati Archives & Rare Books Library is very fortunate to have received a large collection of the work of civil rights lawyer Al Gerhardstein. The collection represents nearly 40 years of cases supporting a broad spectrum of civil rights work. Gerhardstein began his career in litigation in 1976, working for the Legal Aid Society of Cincinnati, supporting equitable access to legal counsel for low-income people. Two years later, he joined Robert Laufman in practice opposing employment discrimination, police misconduct, and championing prisoners’ rights. His work snowballed from helping individuals finding their rights in the legal system to a legacy of fighting for systemic change in support of civil rights on a national level. The collection’s focus includes, women’s reproductive rights, prisoners’ rights, LGBT rights, and addressing police misconduct.
Notable cases in Gerhardstein’s portfolio supporting women’s reproductive rights, which are included in the collection, include Planned Parenthood Association of Cincinnati v. Project Jericho, et al. In Planned Parenthood v. Project Jericho, Gerhardstein fought to protect people trying to access services at the Planned Parenthood Association’s temporary location from harassment by picketers, following the firebombing of the Margaret Sanger Center, where abortion services were previously administered. Harassment including grabbing women attempting to access services, intimidation, and blocking access. 59 protestors were arrested and charged with contempt due to a violation of an injunction to regulate their protest.
Perhaps Gerhardstein’s highest-profile casework in support of prisoners’ rights was for the prisoners of the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio (Case No.: 1:93-cv-436). The Lucasville Riots took place over 11 days in April 1993, resulting in the death of 9 inmates and a corrections officer. Prison officials were charged for failure to protect inmates from the forces that caused the riot and during the riot from death, injury and property loss and for the unconstitutional conditions of confinement since the riot ended. In another case (Case No. 4:97-cv-1995), Gerhardstein challenged the conditions at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center (NOCC), Ohio’s first private prison. Untenable conditions included high rates of violence, deaths, escapes, excessive force, prolonged solitary confinement, and poor medical care. The court challenge ended with an agreement to change the population allowed into the facility, as well as monitoring to act within standards set by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care. Ultimately, the inability to meet these standards led to the closure of the facility.
Following the shooting death of Timothy Thomas by Cincinnati Police officers on April 7, 2001, and subsequent city-wide protests, Gerhardstein led legal counsel in case (Case No. C-1-99-3170) to form the Cincinnati Collaborative Agreement, which became seen as a national model for police reform. The Collaborative Agreement included reforms on police use of force, accountability measures, terms to ensure bias-free policing, implementation of the Citizen’s Complaint Authority for citizen review of police complaints, and measures to improve trust via Community Problem Oriented Policing.
However, Gerhardstein’s most recognized work was in support of marriage equality, in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges (Case No. 1:13-cv-501). Jim Obergefell and his husband, John Arthur, were legally married in the state of Maryland in July 2013. However, their marriage was not recognized by the state of Ohio. The discriminatory act on the state level led to Gerhardstein leading council for several consolidated cases challenging states’ refusal to recognize same-sex marriages performed out-of-state. The case ended with the nation-wide legalization of same-sex marriage.
The Alphonse A. Gerhardstein papers are currently being processed, but we will announce when the collection is open for research here on our blog. In the meantime, please email the Archives and Rare Books Library at email@example.com or call 513-556-1959 for more information on the collection.