Interior of the Office of Kaplan Johnson Abate & Bird LLP

Heather Gatnarek



Areas Of Practice

  • Appellate Advocacy
  • Complex Commercial Litigation
  • Constitutional Law
  • Government Investigations
  • First Amendment & Media Law
  • Healthcare Litigation

Heather is a skilled litigator and trial attorney with over a decade of experience in both complex civil and criminal matters. She utilizes her background to help guide clients through all phases of commercial disputes from the commonplace to the most complex.

Heather began her career at the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy’s Capital Trials Branch, where she represented indigent Kentuckians facing capital charges. Her representation spanned from arraignment through pre-trial litigation and preparation to trial or settlement. She then joined the ACLU of Kentucky, where she investigated and litigated constitutional challenges to statutes, regulations, and government practices at all levels of Kentucky’s court system as well as federal trial and appellate courts. Heather also litigated Open Records cases, prosecuted putative class litigation, and provided regulatory compliance advice to clients.

Heather has vast courtroom experience, including representing parties at criminal and civil trials, and arguing appeals and motions in state and federal courts. Her strengths include her zealous advocacy, responsiveness to clients, and ability to distill complex legal matters down to their component parts. Clients benefit from her relentless litigation of constitutional and civil rights challenges and her passion for institutional change.


  • Kentucky
  • U.S. Supreme Court
  • U.S. Court of Appeals 6th Circuit
  • U.S. District Court Eastern District of Kentucky
  • U.S. District Court Western District of Kentucky


  • Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, District of Columbia
    • J.D. - 2012
  • Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts
    • B.A. - 2005
    • Major: Sociology

Honors And Awards

  • Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy Furman Award, 2019

Professional Associations and Memberships

  • Kentucky Bar Association
  • Louisville Bar Association
  • Jefferson County Women Lawyers Association

Representative Matters

  • Successfully prosecuted First Amendment free exercise and retaliation claim against Kentucky Department of Corrections for its violation of client’s religious liberty by forcibly cutting his dreadlocks, negotiating settlement of case including a resultant change to the policy thereby preventing repeats of this practice. Thurman v. Crews et al., Case No. 5:22-CV-00109 (E.D. Ky.).
  • Defeated city government’s motion to dismiss putative class litigation on basis of Monell liability, allowing litigation to proceed. Scott et al. v. Louisville Metro Police Department et al., 503 F.Supp.3d 532, 2020 WL 6946573 (W.D. Ky. Nov. 25, 2020).
  • Won summary judgment and attorneys’ fees award in First Amendment challenge to Kentucky Department of Transportation’s unconstitutional and inconsistent denial of personalized license plates, resulting in amended statute and practice. Hart v. Thomas, 422 F.Supp.3d 1227, 2019 WL 5967947 (E.D. Ky. Nov. 13, 2019).
  • Successfully defended Open Records requester in lawsuit filed by large public university, leading to disclosure of Open Records and award of attorneys’ fees. University of Louisville v. Peter Hasselbacher, No. 16-CI-4800 (Jefferson Co. Cir. Ct. May 22, 2018).
  • Aggressively investigated and litigated actual innocence claim pre-trial in a capital case, resulting first in the prosecution’s declining to pursue the death penalty as a possible punishment, and then in the dismissal of all charges and client’s release from jail after five years of wrongful confinement. Commonwealth of Kentucky v. Jonathan Taylor, No. 12-CR-00070-001 (Knox Co. Cir. Ct. Jun. 30, 2016).
  • Under then-existing federal law, obtained trial level preliminary and permanent injunctions against state laws that would have banned or prohibited certain critical medical procedures. EMW Women’s Surgical Center, P.S.C. et al. v. Glisson et al., Case No. 3:17-CV-00189 (W.D. Ky.); EMW Women’s Surgical Center, P.S.C. et al. v. Meier et al., Case No. 3:18-CV-00224 (W.D. Ky.); EMW Women’s Surgical Center, P.S.C., et al. v. Meier et al., Case No. 3:19-CV-00178 (W.D. Ky.); Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, Hawaii, Alaska, Indiana and Kentucky, Inc. et al. v. Cameron et al., Case No. 3:22-CV-00198 (W.D. Ky.).

Community Activities

  • Jefferson County Women Lawyers Association, Board Member (2024-present)