HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A jury has awarded about $638,000 to a woman who sued a man she said had a sadomasochistic sexual relationship with her adult daughter in a case that led to a state Supreme Court ruling on whether mentally ill people can consent to sex.
Mary Kortner, of Greenwich, filed a civil sexual battery and assault lawsuit in 2006 against Craig Martise, a married father of four from the same town, saying her daughter wasn't able to consent to an abusive sexual relationship with him 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 Martise. 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 in 2001 had a stroke that left her partially paralyzed from the waist down, court records say.
"This case is important because it sends a message ... to men who prey on women," said Kortner's lawyer, Christopher Burdett. "People who do the kinds of things Martise did have to be made to answer to it, and the community needs to express outrage."
Kortner said her daughter and Martise met online and that he used his intellect "to bully a person who was of compromised judgment." She called it a "long, tragic story."
"I don't have the words to tell you how grateful I was to have a plaintiff's verdict come in," Kortner said. "My heart is at ease after getting justice for my daughter."
Martise didn't return a phone message Tuesday. His lawyer, Philip Russell, said he plans to ask the trial judge to overturn the verdict or reduce the award and then, based on the judge's rulings, consider appealing the verdict to a higher court.
"We were somewhat puzzled and disappointed by the outcome," Russell said. "Craig's a great guy. Unfortunately, like many things that become media sensations, he'll be pilloried before his side gets told."
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.