Karen L. Murtagh
Karen 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 numerous 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 began working at PLS during the summer of 1983 as an intern via a prisoners’ rights clinic sponsored by Albany Law School. After graduating from law school, she was hired as a staff attorney for the Albany office of PLS. Ms. Murtagh is admitted to practice law in New York State, all Federal District Courts of New York and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Ms. Murtagh was first exposed to the issues surrounding prison conditions when she was a young teenager. In an attempt to address some of the underlying causes of the 1971 Attica uprising, Ms. Murtagh’s father, who was also a lawyer, was called into Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, NY to teach courses to Correction Officers on the constitutional rights of prisoners. Ms. Murtagh accompanied her father every Wednesday night to the prison, sat in the back of the classroom and listened to her father explain to Correction Officers why respecting, protecting and enforcing the constitutional rights of incarcerated individuals would, in the long run, improve the safety and security of the prison and better prepare individuals for successful reintegration into their communities upon release. She has never forgotten those lessons.