August 20, 2021
Today, in a major appellate victory for civil rights plaintiffs, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reinstated the lawsuit of our client Andrew Smalls. Adopting our arguments wholesale, the Court issued a decision that will ease the path for plaintiffs to bring federal lawsuits alleging that police officers fabricated evidence. Law360 reported on the case here.
At issue in the case, Smalls v. City of New York, was whether such a plaintiff must prove he won his state criminal case in a manner that proved his innocence. Because our legal system does not require the accused to prove their innocence, but rather puts the burden on the prosecution to prove guilt, few criminal cases are resolved with a finding of innocence. In our case, Mr. Smalls’s conviction was reversed on appeal because the police had illegally stopped him. He filed a lawsuit, and a federal jury found that the police had fabricated the evidence against him. But the federal trial judge then dismissed the case because the state appellate court had not indicated in its decision that Mr. Smalls was innocent.
In today’s decision, the Second Circuit reversed the district court. It held that there is no requirement that the underlying criminal proceedings end in a way indicative of innocence before bringing a civil rights lawsuit alleging evidence fabrication. The court agreed with us that police officers who fabricate evidence and thus corrupt the justice system must be held accountable regardless of whether the victim of such fabrication proved his innocence in the underlying criminal proceeding. In so doing, it abrogated a slew of recent opinions from district courts in the Second Circuit holding that plaintiffs alleging evidence fabrication must meet the “favorable-termination” requirement of malicious-prosecution cases.
Firm principal Joel Rudin argued this appeal back in March, after being retained by Mr. Smalls and his trial attorney, Jon Norinsberg. Mr. Rudin and associates Jacob Loup and Matthew Wasserman wrote the briefs (read the opening brief here and the reply brief here). The Circuit’s decision affirmed our interpretation of the Supreme Court’s recent holding in McDonough v. Smith, 139 S. Ct. 2149 (2019), a case in which Mr. Rudin was co-counsel.
May 24, 2021
In an article published today on the New Yorker website, veteran reporter Tom Robbins writes about the wrongful conviction of Shuaib O’Neill and, after the conviction was reversed, the ensuing civil actions that our firm brought on Mr. O’Neill’s behalf. In those lawsuits, handled by firm principal Joel Rudin and associate Haran Tae, we achieved settlements for Mr. O’Neill totaling $2.4 million. The New Yorker article gives an eloquent account of Mr. O’Neill’s ordeal, and it questions why the officer who Mr. O’Neill alleges framed him has continued to rise through the NYPD’s ranks rather than being held accountable for his repeated misconduct. The article also raises the question of why the New York City Law Department persists in defending such misconduct rather than making serious efforts to curtail it. Read the article here.
May 19, 2021
Yesterday the firm filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Ahmed Sami, who was arrested by the NYPD during last summer’s George Floyd protests. The complaint alleges that Mr. Sami was arrested without probable cause as he was leaving a peaceful protest against police brutality. Officers handcuffed him too tightly using plastic flex-cuffs and then ignored his repeated complaints that the handcuffs were too tight and causing him pain. They removed the flex-cuffs only after he had spent hours in a holding cell. As a result, Mr. Sami suffered excruciating pain and nerve damage. The complaint further alleges that these injuries resulted from the City of New York’s deliberate indifference to the repeated injuries caused by the NYPD’s use of flex-cuffs against protesters.
Mr. Sami is represented by Matthew Wasserman, under the supervision of Joel Rudin. You can read the complaint here.
April 09, 2021
Today, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York denied the City of New York’s motion for partial judgment on the pleadings and held that firm client Jawaun Fraser’s claims could proceed. Mr. Fraser alleges that the defendants violated Brady v. Maryland when they disclosed to the defense only two of the 38 lawsuits filed against the team of narcotics officers who arrested him—and were the sole witnesses to testify at his trial. The defendants argued, essentially, that Mr. Fraser’s Brady claims must be dismissed because the lawsuits were public records and the prosecution had no duty to inquire into civil lawsuits filed against testifying officers. The court rejected both arguments. You can read its decision here and the New York Law Journal’s coverage of the decision here.
The district court, notably, rejected the New York Court of Appeals’ holding in People v. Garrett, 23 N.Y.3d 878 (2014), that prosecutors have no duty to inquire into civil lawsuits filed against testifying officers. Instead, the court held, “Brady and its progeny do not contain such an exception. . . . When the primary evidence against the defendant is the testimony of police officers, prosecutors have a duty to inquire about potential impeachment material that reflects on the credibility of those officers. The Constitution does not endorse a ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy with respect to Brady material.” The court further held that, notwithstanding Garrett, “police officers who are key prosecution witnesses in a criminal trial are obligated under Brady to disclose the existence of civil lawsuits or other allegations of misconduct filed against them that bear on their credibility.”
Matthew Wasserman took the lead on the briefs, with the help of Haran Tae and under the supervision of firm principal Joel Rudin.
April 08, 2021
In a long article reporting on the recent exonerations in Queens of George Bell, Gary Johnson, and Rohan Bolt after they spent almost a quarter-century in prison, Gothamist discusses our firm’s lawsuits against New York City based on the longstanding misconduct of the Queens DA’s Office. In addition to covering our documentation of more than a hundred decisions in which appellate courts admonished Queens prosecutors for misconduct, the article also reports on evidence we recently obtained of former DA Richard Brown’s indifference to this pervasive misconduct:
Much of this misconduct took place after District Attorney Richard Brown took power in 1991. Newly-obtained evidence shows that less than a decade into his tenure, Brown was well aware of at least some of the misconduct happening under his watch.
In 1998, after another serious conviction was reversed in Queens due to an appellate finding of prosecutorial misconduct, Brown scribbled a note to one of his executives, which was found attached to the court’s decision. “Jack – Let’s discuss how to handle – I think we’ve been getting away with this kind of stuff for a long time,” the District Attorney wrote. The note was finally released to Rudin and several other attorneys last month as part of a lawsuit over prosecutorial misconduct that began nine years ago.
Brown’s admission in internal documents that the office has “been getting away with this kind of stuff for a long time” is among the most powerful evidence yet of the DA’s indifference to ongoing misconduct by Queens prosecutors. Read the whole Gothamist article here.
April 05, 2021
On March 8, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of Thompson v. Clark, which presents the question of whether a plaintiff alleging that law enforcement officials maliciously prosecuted him in violation of the Constitution must prove that he won his state criminal case on the basis that he was innocent. An article appearing today in Law360 quotes several leading scholars and practitioners, including Joel, on this hugely important issue.
The Thompson case involves similar questions to those at issue in two recent cases on which Joel has been co-counsel: the Supreme Court case McDonough v. Smith and the pending Second Circuit case Smalls v. City of New York, which Joel argued on March 8.
March 31, 2021
Today the New York Appellate Division, Second Department, reversed our client’s conviction for first-degree rape in People v. King. Jacob Loup took the lead in writing the briefs, with the collaboration of firm principal Joel Rudin, who argued the appeal.
In today’s ruling, the Appellate Division agreed with our argument that the trial court violated Mr. King’s constitutional and statutory right to be present when it held an ex parte, in camera interview with the complainant during the trial. It also agreed that the trial court (1) abused its discretion by striking the complainant’s cross-examination testimony about her psychiatric history, (2) improperly let the prosecution introduce a statement allegedly made by Mr. King despite their failure to give proper statement notice under CPL § 710.30, and (3) improperly allowed the statement to be admitted in violation of People v. Molineux, 168 N.Y. 264 (1901).
You can read the decision here.
March 09, 2021
Firm principal Joel Rudin today argued an important civil rights case in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Listen to the oral argument here. At issue is whether a plaintiff in a federal civil rights case claiming that fabricated evidence was used against him must also prove that he won his state criminal case on the basis of his innocence. Very few criminal cases are resolved that way. In this case, Smalls v. City of New York, our client’s gun possession conviction was reversed on appeal, and the indictment dismissed, not on the basis of his innocence, but because police illegally stopped him, in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. After a federal civil jury found he was framed by police using fabricated evidence, the federal trial judge dismissed the case because the state court had not indicated in its decision that Mr. Smalls was innocent.
Retained to handle the appeal by Mr. Smalls and his trial attorney, we are seeking to have the jury’s verdict reinstated. Resolution of our appeal will depend upon the Second Circuit’s interpretation of a recent Supreme Court decision, McDonough v. Smith, 139 S. Ct. 2149 (2019), a case in which Mr. Rudin was co-counsel. You can read our Second Circuit briefs, authored by Mr. Rudin and associates Jacob Loup and Matthew Wasserman, here (opening) and here (reply). An amicus brief supporting our appeal was submitted by 12 leading civil rights and public interest organizations. You can read it here.
March 05, 2021
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York granted Rhian Taylor’s motion to amend his complaint yesterday, allowing him to add claims of evidence fabrication and excessive pretrial detention under the Fourth Amendment. Mr. Taylor alleges that he spent nearly nine years in jail and prison because of the police and prosecution’s withholding of exculpatory and impeachment evidence. In addition to his federal lawsuit, Mr. Taylor’s suit in the Court of Claims for his unjust conviction remains ongoing. Matthew Wasserman drafted the briefs and argued the motion, under firm principal Joel Rudin’s supervision.
You can read the district court’s opinion here.
February 02, 2021
The firm filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in the case of Farhane v. United States today. The Government is trying to denaturalize naturalized citizen Abderrahmane Farhane on the basis of his 2006 guilty plea. We argue that the Sixth Amendment requires defense counsel to advise naturalized citizens of the denaturalization and deportation risks of a guilty plea. Matthew Wasserman and Haran Tae wrote the brief on behalf of the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
You can read our brief here.