Strip-searched woman settles case for $290,000

By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff
Posted March 09, 2009, at 8:33 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — The Thomaston woman who pulled out of a class-action lawsuit over illegal strip-searches at Knox County Jail, then sued the county on her own, has settled her case for $290,000.

Laurie Tardiff, 41, told the Bangor Daily News in October 2006 that the $11,000 U.S. District Judge Gene Carter proposed for her as lead plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit was “minuscule” compared to the damages she suffered as a result of being strip-searched illegally more than eight years ago.

After withdrawing from the class-action lawsuit, Tardiff filed the new lawsuit in February 2007, nearly six years to the day after she was illegally strip-searched. The settlement in the new case was reached, according to court documents, on Feb. 12, 2009, five days before a jury-waived trial on damages was to have begun.

U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby, who presided on the second case, had earlier accepted Carter’s ruling that Tardiff was strip-searched illegally by a female officer at the Rockland jail after being arrested on a felony charge of tampering with a witness. That charge and a charge of violating conditions of release, a misdemeanor, later were dismissed.

The class-action suit was settled for more than $3 million and closed in September 2007. Although the class was estimated by attorneys to have included up to 4,000 people, 376 were certified to be part of the class. Each received, according to court documents, $5,935 for being strip-searched without reasonable suspicion at the Rockland jail between Nov. 19, 1996, and Dec. 31, 2004.

Dale Dare, 42, of Manchester, N.H., who replaced Tardiff as the lead plaintiff, received an additional $5,000 for being the class representative. Nineteen others who were deposed in the case received an additional $500 each, according to court documents.

About $775,00 was paid to the Augusta law firm that represented Dare and the other class members.

When she pulled out of the class-action case, Tardiff estimated that her damages from her illegal strip-search on Feb. 7, 2001, totaled $500,000. She claimed that her damages included:

• Continued treatment including therapy and medication for post-traumatic stress disorder.

• Loss of business contracts in excess of $250,000 a year. Tardiff has said she operates a “licensed facility.”

• Cost of hiring people to work at her business because of her false arrest.

• Time away from work because of depression.

She also said, according to a story previously published in the Bangor Daily News, that her membership in the local Kiwanis Club had been tabled and she had been turned down as a school volunteer because of the publicity in the case.

Knox County Administrator Andrew Hart declined Monday to comment on the settlement because he has been on the job only since May.

Peter Marchesi, the Waterville lawyer who regularly defends Maine counties and jails in strip-search litigation, said last week that the cost of pursuing the case through a trial and appeals to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston and, perhaps, the U.S. Supreme Court “far eclipsed” the cost of settling.

“If the litigation had been seen through to the end, the county would have prevailed,” he said. “But the ongoing litigation was a drain on the county’s personnel and its finances.”

The cost of the settlement will be covered by the county’s insurance, according to Marchesi.

Tardiff’s attorney, William Robitzek of Lewiston, declined to say how much money Tardiff would receive once costs and attorneys’ fee were deducted from the settlement.

The standard contracts for legal services in similar lawsuits that seek damages call for one-third of any settlement to be paid the plaintiff’s attorney in legal fees.

“I think she feels satisfied that the county has stepped up to the plate in her case and recognizes that she was harmed,” Robitzek said Monday on behalf of Tardiff. “For most people, this is such a humiliating experience, they don’t want to talk about it, much less go to court. Laurie was brave enough to be the face of a class-action lawsuit. She really put her privacy on the line.”

So far, no one else who was eligible to be a member of the class in the lawsuit against Knox County has filed an individual lawsuit as Tardiff did.

Maine law allows strip-searches of detainees charged with felonies that are violent, drug-related or involve weapons. Detainees charged with nonviolent, nondrug- or nonweapon-related infractions and those charged with misdemeanors are not subject to strip-searches unless there is a reasonable suspicion they are concealing contraband.

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/03/09/news/stripsearched-woman-settles-case-for-290000/ printed on July 22, 2014