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Prison Litigation 2016: Practical Strategies

Author(s): Karen L. Murtagh
Practice Area: Litigation, Pro Bono
Published: Jun 2016
PLI Item #: 171055
CHB Spine #: 65

Karen L. Murtagh is the Executive Director of Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York (PLS), a not-for-profit legal services organization founded in 1976 to provide civil legal services to indigent individuals incarcerated in New York State prisons. She is a graduate of Clarkson University and Albany Law School and is admitted to practice law in New York State, all Federal District Courts of New York and the U.S. Supreme Court. Ms. Murtagh has litigated issues concerning prisoners’ due process rights at disciplinary hearings, prison conditions, deliberate indifference, the First Amendment and the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). She has tried cases in both the Court of Claims and Federal Court and has argued cases before New York State courts including the New York Court of Appeals where she successfully argued that an incarcerated person’s mental health must be considered as a mitigating factor at a prison disciplinary hearing. Ms. Murtagh was also successful as amicus, appearing before the U.S. Supreme Court in a case challenging the constitutionality of a New York State statute that prohibited prisoners from filing federal §1983 actions in state court.

Ms. Murtagh has lectured and conducted CLE trainings across the State on prisoners’ rights issues. She also served on the faculty of Albany Law School as an adjunct professor where she established a clinic program for prisoners’ rights and taught Civil Procedure, Administrative Law, Constitutional Law, Court of Claims Practice, and Litigation Skills. She conducts an annual training for CUNY law students in the Criminal Defense Clinic, training them on the prison disciplinary process and Article 78 procedure.

Ms. Murtagh is the author of “Solitary Confinement in New York State” the New York State Bar Association’s Committee on Civil Rights Report to the House of Delegates which resulted in the House of Delegates adopting a resolution urging, among other things, that the imposition of long-term solitary confinement on persons in custody beyond 15 days be proscribed.

Under her leadership, PLS was awarded the 2014 Denison Ray Non-Profit Organization Award which, inter alia, recognized PLS’ extraordinary commitment to strengthening access to justice initiatives.

In 2017, Ms. Murtagh was presented with the Outstanding Contribution in the Field of Correctional Services award from the Criminal Justice Section of the New York State Bar Association.