We are leaders in winning money damages for wrongfully-convicted clients. We sue in the New York Court of Claims for clients with overturned convictions who can prove their innocence. We also bring federal civil rights actions, often at the same time, for clients injured by police and prosecutorial misconduct. In such lawsuits, we have won approximately twenty settlements of $1 million or more, including $15.45 million for William Vasquez and $13 million for Jabbar Collins.
We have been uniquely successful in holding municipalities like New York City liable for prosecutorial misconduct. Joel has forced the District Attorneys in Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx to submit to sworn depositions and has shown how their indifference to prosecutorial misconduct has resulted in wrongful convictions. He has detailed the results of our firm’s investigations of these District Attorneys’ negligence in an influential article in the Fordham Law Review and discussed some of his experiences and expertise in wrongful convictions in Suing for Prosecutorial Misconduct, The Champion, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (2010), and Reversing the Malcolm X Convictions: How It Happened, How Far We’ve Come, How Far We Need To Go, New York State Bar Association (2021).
After Joel won a highly publicized federal habeas corpus action freeing noted “jailhouse lawyer” Jabbar Collins from prison after he had served 16 years for a murder he did not commit, Joel brought state and federal lawsuits on his behalf. A federal judge, in an important decision, upheld Jabbar’s right to sue New York City for the disciplinary failures and other illegal practices of the Brooklyn DA’s Office under Charles Hynes. Collins v. City of New York, 923 F. Supp. 2d 462 (E.D.N.Y. 2013). The revelations of misconduct unearthed by our lawsuit helped reformer Ken Thompson defeat Hynes and led to DA Thompson’s formation of Brooklyn’s widely praised Conviction Review Unit. We then recovered a total settlement of $13 million for Jabbar. The case was covered on the front page of the Wall Street Journal (see later WSJ coverage here and here), chronicled in the New York Times (e.g., here, here, here, and here) and New York Daily News (here, here, and here), and also covered in Pro Publica, among other outlets.
After our client was exonerated of an arson-murder by the Conviction Review Unit of the Brooklyn DA’s Office in 2015, he retained our firm to pursue money damages. Less than a year later, we obtained a combined settlement from New York City and State of $15.45 million. The case was covered in the New York Times and the New York Daily News.
Joel won Alberto’s freedom in 1992, after Alberto had served seven years in prison, by establishing that a Bronx prosecutor had suppressed evidence that the sex crime charges against Alberto were fabricated. The prosecutor had immunity from suit, but Joel brought a novel civil rights action claiming that New York City was responsible because of the Bronx DA’s history of not disciplining prosecutors who commit misconduct. Joel won what is still a leading New York State decision upholding lawsuits based on such a theory. Ramos v. City of New York, 285 A.D.2d 284 (1st Dep’t 2001). Joel forced the City to disclose the personnel records of 73 prosecutors who had committed misconduct and showed that none had been meaningfully disciplined. Joel then won Alberto a $5 million settlement, at the time New York’s largest wrongful conviction settlement ever.
Joel convinced the New York Court of Appeals to overturn Mr. Negron’s conviction in 2015 based on prosecutorial misconduct, then got the entire case dismissed based on the same prosecutor’s misconduct in the grand jury. In a federal lawsuit he and associate Jacob Loup then brought on Mr. Negron’s behalf, the firm exposed a long history of misconduct at the Queens DA’s Office and the District Attorney’s failure to discipline the responsible prosecutors. In 2021, the firm settled Mr. Negron’s case for $6.25 million, which is among the highest settlement payouts per year of wrongful imprisonment that the City of New York has made. Mr. Negron’s criminal and civil cases were covered in the New York Times and the New York Daily News (here and here).
Zack Zahrey was a prolific undercover NYPD narcotics detective, indicted in 1996 on federal charges that he had participated in a scheme to rob or kill drug dealers. Joel won Zack’s complete acquittal after a six-week trial, then sued state and federal prosecutors and NYPD Internal Affairs detectives for fabricating the evidence against him. Joel won a landmark federal appellate decision that his client could sue a federal prosecutor for manufacturing false evidence during his investigation of the case, even though the prosecutor had absolute immunity for his use of the evidence. Zahrey v. Coffey, 221 F.3d 342 (2d Cir. 2000).In 2010, Joel won a judgment against New York City, two state prosecutors, and two NYPD Internal Affairs detectives for damages and legal fees totaling $2.25 million. 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.
Our clients were falsely convicted in Bronx County of shooting a livery cab driver during a robbery. Robert Maldonado spent four years in prison before he was exonerated. Joel, together with attorney Julia Kuan, won a $2.5 million settlement for Robert in Bronx Supreme Court.
After seven years in prison, Marcos Poventud’s conviction was vacated. Although Marcos accepted a plea bargain to obtain his immediate release, Joel then won an unprecedented ruling, before a rare en banc session of the U.S. Court of Appeals in which all 15 judges participated, that Marcos was entitled to sue anyway. See Poventud v. City of New York, 750 F.3d 121 (2d Cir. 2014) (en banc). Together with Ms. Kuan, Joel then obtained a federal settlement for Marcos of $2.75 million, which was covered in the New York Times.
During a post-conviction 440 motion, Joel proved that a Manhattan prosecutor had used false evidence to convict Danny Colon and Anthony Ortiz of murder in 1993. It took two appeals, but Joel then convinced the New York Court of Appeals to vacate the conviction and later obtained a dismissal of all charges. In 2014, Joel obtained a total wrongful-conviction settlement of $9 million against police detectives and New York City.
In 2003, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Shi Wei Su’s attempted murder conviction because a Queens prosecutor had used false testimony to convict him. Shih Wei retained Joel, who won a $3.5 million settlement after showing the Queens DA’s failure to discipline prosecutorial misconduct. Pulitzer Prize–winning columnist Jim Dwyer covered the case in the New York Times.
After an alleged rape victim recanted her original accusation, the Manhattan DA’s Conviction Integrity Unit vacated VanDyke Perry’s rape conviction. VanDyke had spent 10 years in prison. Joel, together with associate Jacob Loup, won an early settlement of VanDyke’s state and federal lawsuits of $6 million.
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.
Besides our success in wrongful conviction lawsuits, we have won many large damages awards for individuals who have suffered harm from false arrest, malicious prosecution, and police brutality.
Domingo saw police beating up his brother and his brother’s friend at a park in Washington Heights in Manhattan. When police saw him calling 911 to report the brutality, they beat him up and broke his ankle. Joel won him a settlement of $625,000.
When Elsa protested the police for ticketing her husband’s car, they violently handcuffed her and broke her wrist. The firm won her a $400,000 settlement.
Allen was a college student when he had the misfortune to be a passenger in a car whose driver led police on a high-speed chase before abandoning the vehicle. Police took out their anger on Allen, beating him and then falsely charging him with resisting arrest. When lawyers for New York City withheld discovery information, the firm won a rare federal court ruling sanctioning them for their failure to turn over discovery material. See Brown v. City of New York, 15-cv-4488, 2018 WL 3193208 (E.D.N.Y. June 28, 2018). Joel and associate Haran Tae then won a $325,000 settlement.
After Anthony was falsely arrested by the police, he was assaulted by other prisoners at Central Booking before being released. Joel won a $250,000 settlement.
Our client, a New York City firefighter, was mistakenly arrested and, after the DA’s Office declined to prosecute, then held an additional day in custody unlawfully so that police could conduct a criminal record check to see if he had any outstanding warrant. We won a $180,000 settlement, which included an agreement by New York City to no longer detain people for the sole purpose of conducting a criminal record check.