Thursday, March 25, 2010

Supreme Court to Hear Another Prosecutorial Immunity Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office appeal of John Thompson’s $14 million verdict, Connick v. Thompson, 09-571. The suit alleged that Thompson’s civil rights were violated when the DA’s office failed to train prosecutors regarding their responsiblities under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963).

Last term the U.S. Supreme Court decided Van de Kamp v. Goldstein, 555 U.S.___ (2009). The court unanimously extended absolute immunity to claims that supervising prosecutors failed to train line prosecutors on their obligation to disclose impeachment evidence as required by Giglio v.United States, 405 U.S. 150 (1972). The High Court held, individual prosecutors are immune from suits alleging failure “to adequately train and supervise deputy district attorneys” on disclosure obligations, and “failure to create any system” for managing impeachment evidence.

The Supreme Court is now being asked to decide whether a single-incident, failure-to-train claim that is covered by absolute immunity for an individual prosecutor pursuant to Van de Kamp, can stand against a district attorney’s office, pursuant to a 1983 civil rights action.

My Take

Holding an office liable for the conduct of its occupants, when those occupants individually have absolute immunity appears to abrogate the very holding of Van de Kamp. If a district attorney’s office was subject to the same litigation that is barred against its employees, how are those individual prosecutors protected from the “judgment-distorting burdens of litigation” protected through Van de Kamp?

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