We have played a leading role in cases that have shaped the direction of civil rights law in the Second Circuit and nationally. The firm’s principal, Joel Rudin, has handled many of these cases on behalf of individual clients and others as vice chair of the amicus committee of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
McDonough v. Smith
After the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that the statute of limitations barred a lawsuit claiming that police had fabricated the evidence, Joel entered the case. As co-counsel with Neal Katyal, former Acting Solicitor General of the United States, he helped win an important 6-3 Supreme Court decision protecting the right to sue, in McDonough v. Smith,139 S. Ct. 2149 (2019). The briefing and decision are available at Scotusblog.
Smalls v. City of New York
In federal court in New York, when a civil rights plaintiff alleges that police officers fabricated evidence in a criminal prosecution, he is required to show that the prosecution ended “in his favor.” The question in Smalls was whether this means the plaintiff must prove the prosecution ended in a manner indicating his innocence. Because our legal system puts the burden on the prosecution to prove guilt, few criminal cases are resolved in such a manner. Our firm briefed the appeal, and Joel Rudin argued it. The Second Circuit adopted our view, holding that such a plaintiff need not prove his criminal proceedings ended in a manner indicating his innocence. See Smalls v. City of New York, 10 F.4th 117 (2d Cir. 2021). Read more here.
Bellamy v. City of New York
Kareem Bellamy served 14 years in prison before his conviction was overturned, but a lower federal court dismissed his lawsuit. Joel Rudin won a landmark appellate decision reinstating the case against New York City as well as individual police detectives, in Bellamy v. City of New York, 914 F.3d 727 (2d Cir. 2019). The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that the City could be held responsible for prosecutorial misconduct that resulted from the policies of a district attorney, here the late Queens DA Richard Brown. The significance of the case was discussed in the New York Times. Joel was part of a team that later settled the lawsuit in federal court for $8 million.
Poventud v. City of New York
Our client, Marcos Poventud, spent seven years in prison because a police detective suppressed exculpatory evidence, but after the conviction was vacated, Marcos accepted a plea bargain in order to obtain his immediate release. The district court dismissed Marcos’s ensuing lawsuit, reasoning that Marcos’s guilty plea deprived him of his right to recover damages. Joel then won his appeal twice, convincing first a three-judge panel, and then a majority of the full Court in a rare, 15-judge en banc session, that the guilty plea was no bar to a suit for damages caused by Marcos’s initial, unconstitutionally obtained trial conviction. See Poventud v. City of New York, 750 F.3d 121 (2d Cir. 2014) (en banc). Joel and attorney Julia Kuan later won Marcos a $2.75 million settlement, which was covered in the New York Times.
Zahrey v. Coffey
Joel won the acquittal of our client, Zaher “Zack” Zahrey, an NYPD undercover detective, at a federal police-corruption trial, and then sued state and federal prosecutors for fabricating the evidence against him. A lower federal court dismissed the lawsuit against the federal prosecutor because prosecutors enjoy absolute immunity for their actions during a prosecution. However, on appeal, Joel argued that a prosecutor may be held liable for his investigative misconduct in fabricating evidence for later use during a prosecution, even though he has immunity for the use itself. In what is still the leading federal appellate decision on this issue, the Court of Appeals agreed, reinstating the lawsuit. Zahrey v. Coffey, 221 F.3d 342 (2d Cir. 2000). After securing this victory, Joel settled the case before trial for $2.25 million, including legal fees. The case was chronicled in the New York Times (here, here, and here) including in two pieces by Times columnist Bob Herbert (here and here) and also featured in New York Magazine and the Los Angeles Times.
Ramos v. City of New York
Joel overturned the rape conviction of Alberto Ramos after showing that a Bronx prosecutor had suppressed a plethora of evidence showing that the charge had been concocted. After a lower court judge dismissed most of the lawsuit, Joel appealed and won, in Ramos v. City of New York, 285 A.D.2d 284 (1st Dep’t 2001). The decision is the leading New York State case holding that a municipality, here New York City, may be sued for the unlawful policies of a local DA’s Office that lead to prosecutorial misconduct. Joel later settled the case for $5 million.
Simon v. City of New York
On behalf of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Joel joined forces with the American Civil Liberties Union as amicus curiae in supporting two appeals by a plaintiff who had been unlawfully detained by the Queens DA’s Office on a material witness warrant. In the first appeal, we helped convince the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to reinstate the case because the prosecutor’s misconduct was an investigative, not a prosecutorial, act and thus he lacked absolute immunity. See Simon v. City of New York, 727 F.3d 167 (2d Cir. 2013). In the second appeal, again following the district court’s dismissal of the case, we successfully argued that the prosecutor could not claim qualified immunity because the unlawfulness of the prosecutor’s actions should have been obvious even though there was no prior decision on point. See Simon v. City of New York, 893 F.3d 83 (2d Cir. 2018). The plaintiff went on to settle her case.