ACLU of Ohio Counters Governor's Spin in Pregnant Prisoner Case

March 22, 1999 12:00 am

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Monday, March 22, 1999

CLEVELAND — Ohio Governor Bob Taft’s spin control is out of control, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio charged today, saying that ACLU legal action — not a humanitarian impulse — is what prompted Taft to allow a pregnant prisoner’s husband to be present during his wife’s labor.

The case involves Barbara Ann Turner, a prisoner at the Franklin Pre-Release Center in Columbus, who is nine months pregnant. After Turner gave an interview about prison life to the Cincinnati Enquirer on March 8, 1999, Warden Patricia Andrews revoked her husband Sean’s permission to be present at the birth of the couple’s first child.

The ACLU agreed to take Turner’s case after visiting her in prison on Saturday, March 20. Wtih the baby’s birth imminent, the ACLU spent much of the day attempting to negotiate with state officials including Warden Andrews and Attorney General Betty Montgomery, whose driver they reached by cell phone.

“Every effort to discuss the matter was rebuffed,” said ACLU of Ohio Legal Director Raymond Vasvari. “They either refused to take our calls or seriously to discuss the Turner case when we reached them. We were left with no choice but to go to court.”

Working on rented computers and cell phones from a Columbus parking lot, Vasvari — along with ACLU General Counsel Scott Greenwood, and Associate Legal Director Gino Scarselli — then quickly drafted legal papers and faxed them to United States District Judge Susan Dlott at her home in Cincinnati.

Greenwood, who had spent the day trying to contact state officials and federal judges to hear the case, explained the Turner case to Judge Dlott late Saturday evening. After hearing Greenwood’s arguments and reviewing the legal papers, the judge issued a temporary restraining order at 10 o’clock that evening, requiring prison officials to allow Sean to be present when his child is born.

“It was a major victory at what was almost literally the eleventh hour,” said Greenwood. “But now the state, which tried its best to ignore the Turners and their case, is claiming credit.”

On Sunday, March 21, Governor Bob Taft’s office issued a statement saying that the governor had ordered prison officials to allow Sean to be present at the delivery based on the governor’s concern for “family togetherness” — failing to mention that the state had been ordered to do so the night before by a federal judge.

“The governor’s statement contains a substantial and material omission,” said Greenwood: “In short, it is a lie. State officials did their best to ignore the Turners and their request. It took a federal lawsuit initiated on a Saturday night to change their minds. For Bob Taft to say otherwise is pure fiction and simple dishonesty.”

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