The detente between an Orthodox Jewish inmate and the Nevada Department of Corrections ended this week when the inmate filed a new complaint alleging that prison officials are refusing to serve him kosher meals.
In an amended lawsuit filed Tuesday, almost seven months after the parties reached a temporary resolution in his case, prisoner Howard Ackerman accuses state officials of violating his First Amendment right of religious freedom. He also alleges state officials retaliated against him after he filed the original lawsuit in June.
According to the amended class-action complaint, officials retaliated against Ackerman by transferring him from the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City to the Lovelock Correctional Center and by ending the availability of kosher food.
"I surely did not anticipate that Mr. Ackerman would be moved," U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro said at a Tuesday hearing, shortly before the revised complaint was filed. "That was not a pleasant surprise."
Navarro later said the move "does somewhat smack of some kind of retaliation."
According to Ackerman's original lawsuit, the Department of Corrections "has determined that kosher diets are no longer to be provided to any prisoners."
At a June hearing in Navarro's courtroom, attorneys involved in the case said they had reached an agreement that eliminated the need for a restraining order. Under the agreement, prison officials promised to give 30 days' notice before implementing a new menu.
At the time, attorney Jacob Hafter said that meant inmates who wanted kosher food would continue to receive it.
"That didn't occur," Hafter told Navarro on Tuesday. "That has not occurred."
Hafter, who represents Ackerman, said he has been receiving "frantic calls on a weekly basis" from his client.
Senior Deputy Attorney General William Geddes insisted Ackerman has been receiving the same menu. He also said Ackerman's transfer was appropriate.
Geddes said the prison system plans to roll out a new "common fare" menu in mid-February. He said the new menu will be kosher and argued that Ackerman's lawsuit was filed prematurely.
"We will boldly defend this case on the merits when we get there," Geddes told Navarro.
Without rabbinic supervision of the food preparation, Hafter argued, the new menu will not be kosher.
"They're not going to have rabbinic supervision," the lawyer said.
Ackerman, 51, is serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole in a kidnapping case.
According to his lawsuit, keeping kosher is an "essential tenet" of Orthodox Judaism.
Those who adhere to a kosher diet do not eat pork, shellfish or certain birds. Also, meat and dairy products may not be eaten together. Although fruits and vegetables are kosher, they may not come into contact with nonkosher food, utensils or dishes.
Navarro has scheduled another status hearing in Ackerman's civil case for Feb. 2.
Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-384-8710.