Washington, DC (PRWEB) January 26, 2009
Timothy Coates, a partner at Greines Martin Stein & Richland - a leading Los Angeles-based appellate boutique -- delivered a resounding victory in the U.S. Supreme Court today for former Los Angeles County District Attorney John Van de Kamp and Assistant District Attorney Curt Livesay. In a 9-0 decision in Van de Kamp v. Goldstein (#07-854), the Court, for the first time, found that the absolute immunity from lawsuits granted to prosecutors for any actions "directly connected with the conduct of a trial," also extends to administrative decisions by chief prosecutors as long as they are intimately related to the prosecutorial function.
The court's ruling negated the 9th Circuit's decision in the case, which found that prosecutors are only protected when bringing cases to court -- they are not immune from lawsuits based on conduct relating to managerial duties. At issue in the case was Goldstein's allegation that Van de Kamp and his deputies sanctioned the widespread use of jailhouse informants, even though many of them lie on the witness stand, but failed to implement an effective system to track the veracity of the information they provide.
"This is a critical ruling because district attorneys throughout the country now can concentrate on trial strategy without worrying that they can be sued for administrative details relating to a trial," said Van de Kamp. The United States Solicitor General's office, 49 states, and The National District Attorneys Association, along with other public law organizations, filed friend of the court briefs in support of Van de Kamp's position.
Goldstein's conviction for murder in 1980 was based on testimony from a jailhouse informant who shared a cell with him and said he had confessed to the crime. Twenty-four years after Goldstein went to prison, a judge found he had been wrongly convicted and ordered him released after learning that the informant had falsely testified in numerous other cases in return for a reduced sentence. Prosecutors were unaware of this fact at the time of the conviction and Goldstein cited this alleged lack of managerial oversight as the basis for his lawsuit.
"The Court found that Van de Kamp and Live say are entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity for the manner in which the DA's office implemented policies and training with respect to the use of jail house informants and related decisions regarding disclosure of information that might clear someone of a guilty charge," said Timothy Coates, the Greines Martin Stein & Richland partner who successfully argued the case for Van de Kamp.
Justice Breyer's written opinion on behalf of the Court says, "We conclude that the prosecutor's absolute immunity extends to all these claims about tracking jailhouse informants because they are directly connected with the conduct of a trial."
Other members of the appellate team from Greines Martin Stein & Richland were Jeffrey Raskin and Alan Diamond.