HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A Connecticut jury awarded about $638,000 to a Greenwich woman who sued a man she alleged had a sadomasochistic sexual relationship with her daughter, in a case that led to a state Supreme Court ruling on whether mentally ill people can consent to sex.
Mary Kortner filed a civil sexual battery and assault lawsuit in 2006 against Craig Martise, a fellow Greenwich resident and married father of four, saying her daughter wasn’t able to consent to an abusive sexual relationship with Martise in 2003 because of her mental condition.
Martise said Caroline Kendall Kortner was able to consent, and he was never criminally charged.
In 2009, a jury found in favor of him. In June, the state Supreme Court overturned that verdict and ordered a new trial, which resulted in a new Stamford Superior Court jury finding in favor of Mary Kortner on Thursday.
Kortner’s daughter, known as Kendall, died in 2010 at age 39 from an undisclosed illness. She was diagnosed with clinical depression, borderline personality disorder, bulimia and anorexia, and she twice tried to commit suicide, according to court documents. She also had a stroke in 2001 that left her partially paralyzed from the waist down, court records say.
“We finally got justice for Kendall and obviously for her mother,” said Kortner’s lawyer, Christopher Burdett. “This case is important because it sends a message … to men who prey on women. People who do the kinds of things Martise did have to be made to answer to it, and the community needs to express outrage.”
Martise and his attorney, Philip Russell, didn’t immediately return phone messages Tuesday. It’s not clear if they will appeal.
In an interview with The Associated Press last year, Russell likened the lawsuit to the show “Seinfeld” because it was “about nothing,” and he accused Mary Kortner of filing a frivolous lawsuit.
A probate court ruled in 1994 that Kendall Kortner couldn’t manage her own affairs and appointed her mother as her conservator.
In Mary Kortner’s appeal of the first jury verdict, the state Supreme Court ruled that people don’t necessarily give up their ability to consent to sex — including sadomasochistic encounters — when they are placed under the legal conservatorship of others. The court also said it is up to juries to decide if people are able to consent to sex.
The Supreme Court ordered a new trial because a letter Kendall Kortner purportedly wrote in 2003 about unwanted sexual advances by another man was mistakenly given to the jury for deliberations despite not having been properly admitted into evidence.
Lawyers in the case had said they couldn’t recall any legal precedents in the country on whether mentally ill people can consent to sex or sadomasochism.