Court: Qualified Immunity Protects District Attorney Who Lied To State Legislators About A Wrongfully-Convicted Man

from the QI-is-a-garbage-doctrine-that-only-protects-garbage-gov't-employees dept

Qualified immunity has taken the court system as far away from justice as any one doctrine can. Rights can be freely abused so long as the abuser does it in a novel way or can mumble something about "feared for my safety" while under oath. For the most part, it just sucks to be an average citizen whose rights have been violated. Unless you can show a court held this specific violation -- under very specific circumstances -- to be unlawful, you're stuck with zero recourse for obvious wrong perpetrated by the government.

It's not just abusive cops that benefit from qualified immunity. It's also vindictive district attorneys, like the one in a recent case [PDF] reviewed by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. A man falsely accused of kidnapping and rape spent seven years in prison for a crime he didn't commit before being exonerated by a DNA test. The results of this test were given to district attorney Spencer Lawton, who confirmed the results. The conviction was vacated and the state wisely decided not to take another prosecutorial pass at the falsely accused man.

So far, so good, except for the seven years of freedom wrongfully taken from Douglas Echols. When lawmakers introduced a bill offering compensation for Echol's wrongful imprisonment, Spencer Lawton decided to start lying.

Four years later, after the Georgia Claims Advisory Board recommended compensation for Echols, a legislator in the Georgia General Assembly introduced a bill to compensate him with $1.6 million for his wrongful convictions. But before the General Assembly voted on the bill, Lawton sent a letter and memorandum to several legislators opposing Echols’s compensation…

[...]

Lawton also told the legislators not to presume Echols innocent of kidnapping and rape because the vacatur of his convictions did not establish his innocence. Lawton urged the legislators not to compensate Echols unless he proved his innocence. And Lawton told the legislators that Echols remained under indictment for kidnapping and rape even though the indictment had been dismissed four years earlier when the state entered a nolle prosequi on the charges.

This lie -- specifically claiming Echols remained accused of two felonies -- was libel per se. Echols sued Lawton for violating his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The First Amendment claim alleged retaliation by Lawton for Echols' protected speech, namely advocating for a bill that would have compensated him for the seven years he spent in prison. The lower court said DA Lawton was entitled to qualified immunity. After review, the 11th Circuit, unfortunately, says the same thing:

Although we conclude that Echols’s complaint states a valid claim of retaliation under the First Amendment, we agree with the district court that Lawton enjoys qualified immunity because Echols’s right was not clearly established when Lawton violated it. We affirm.

Since the claim Lawton falsely made was libel per se, it should have been easier for Echols to clear this bar. The appeals court agrees wholeheartedly with this assertion. The defamation of Echols by the district attorney was made with actual malice, since it was the DA himself who verified the DNA test results and decided not to retry the case. Lawton knew no criminal charges were pending against Echols but told state legislators the exact opposite. Somehow, this petty bullshit Lawton performed for seemingly no other reason than to prevent someone else (i.e., taxpayers) from paying Echols for the years he spent wrongly imprisoned was not clearly established enough for the 11th Circuit to find in favor of the plaintiff.

Although Lawton clearly would have had fair notice that his alleged writing constituted libel per se under state tort law, he would not have understood that his alleged libel would have violated the First Amendment. No controlling precedent put Lawton’s alleged violation beyond debate.

In essence, state officials were free to libel former inmates in order to deter them from exercising their First Amendment rights up until the moment this opinion was published. Even though the court says Lawton had "fair notice," it still gives him a pass for engaging in retaliatory defamation. This isn't mitigated at all by the court's "we wish we could but our hands our tied" sentiments offered as a consolation prize to a man who spent seven years in jail for a crime someone else committed.

[W]e too condemn Lawton’s alleged conduct. But the Supreme Court has long ruled that qualified immunity protects a badly behaving official unless he had fair notice that his conduct would violate the Constitution…

Great. The court condemns it but refuses to punish it. The concurring opinion is just as uselessly disappointed in the outcome reached, but at least is a bit harsher in its assessment of the lying, defaming DA.

I further agree with the lead opinion’s conclusion that clear Supreme Court precedent prevents Echols from invoking the rubric of substantive due process as a basis to hold Lawton accountable for a First Amendment violation. But for this binding precedent, I would have concluded that Lawton’s statement “shocks the conscience.” An official’s conduct most likely shocks the conscience—and thus violates an individual’s substantive-due-process rights—if the conduct was “intended to injure in some way unjustifiable by any government interest.” Davis v. Carter, 555 F.3d 979, 982 (11th Cir. 2009) (emphasis added) (citation omitted).

As applied to the present case, there can be no doubt that Lawton’s false statement to the Georgia legislature that Echols was still under indictment for kidnapping and rape was intended to injure Echols. This leaves the question of what possible governmental interest justified Lawton in making that libelous statement. I can think of none. Nor has any such justification been articulated by either Lawton or the district court. I suggest that this total silence is due to the fact that no such justification exists.

I guess we'll have to settle for being happy the next time a DA defames a wrongly accused prisoner while speaking to legislators about possible reparations in the Eleventh Circuit, the court will finally have some precedent on hand to punish state actors for adding literal insults to sustained injuries.

Filed Under: 11th circuit, 1st amendment, civil rights, douglas echols, qualified immunity, spencer lawton


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Feb 2019 @ 12:19pm

    Legally screwed

    In other words, the court agrees that the man was screwed and refuses to do anything about it. It finds itself not at fault which to me means this man needs to sue the hell out of this state and that DA personally. If they settle for 4 times what he should have received, I might consider dropping the lawsuits.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Bamboo Harvester (profile), 1 Feb 2019 @ 12:20pm

    There's something...

    ...off here.

    He's not suing for recompense, which is the usual process.

    The DA (foolishly) put in writing that he was still under indictment to the Assembly to spike a Bill they were to vote on to "grant" the former prisoner money in recompense.

    Like I said above, this isn't normal procedure.

    On the whole, this may actually help the former prisoner when he does file suit for recompense.

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  3. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Professor Swackenhauer, 1 Feb 2019 @ 12:50pm

    Let's agree that lawyers are vermin.

    Far back as Shakespeare: "first, kill all the lawyers".

    Now, given that this is ME, probably the rabid hatred shown by fanboys here will attack me rather the common enemy. Such is Techdirt. (By the way, I enjoy how your hatred of me prevents reasonable positions here, thereby reducing cred. -- I don't try to be hated, it's what YOU do with EVERY dissenter. That's why the site continues dwindling.)

    Your go, "Stone".

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  4. icon
    Gary (profile), 1 Feb 2019 @ 12:56pm

    Re: Let's agree that trolls are vermin.

    I'm sorry, I don't see any actual on-topic comments. You don't like lawyers? But you love cops? What's your point? You just jump straight into attacking TD and Stone. (And with both lies and ad hom for double points!)

    You have no position other than, "TD is mean to me."

    No please cite the common law that says we shouldn't downvote you?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 1 Feb 2019 @ 1:21pm

    The right to have rights

    Although we conclude that Echols’s complaint states a valid claim of retaliation under the First Amendment, we agree with the district court that Lawton enjoys qualified immunity because Echols’s right was not clearly established when Lawton violated it. We affirm.

    I am having a hard time with this. Echols's has a right to be presumed innocent, until proven guilty. Then he was proven not guilty, most likely because the persecution did not do their job correctly. Then he was libeled by that prosecutor. What right was not clearly established?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    David, 1 Feb 2019 @ 1:21pm

    Car equivalent

    Ok, qualified immunity is like you driving over a pedestrian and claiming that you could have sworn your traffic lights were green which makes you get away without penalty.

    That does not quite cover backing over the body repeatedly before doing a hit-and-run though. Even if the court cannot prove you took his wallet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Feb 2019 @ 1:44pm

    Re: The right to have rights

    What right was not clearly established?

    From Judge Pryor's opinion, on p.22, (omitting citation)

    Section 1983 is not a “font of tort law [that] converts [every] state law tort claim[] into [a] federal cause[] of action.”

    And from p.20

    It has certainly not been obvious to the federal courts that an official’s defamatory speech lies at the core of what the First Amendment prohibits.

    The plaintiff chose to proceed under the theory that the prosecutor's false and defamatory statement in the prosecutor's letter to legislators concerning pending legislation — violated plaintiff's first amendment rights!

    Creative pleading there, to get to a § 1983 claim, but I think I would've tossed this case, too. It hasn't been at all clear to me either, that libel, even with actual malice, violates the first amendment rights of the person defamed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 1 Feb 2019 @ 1:51pm

    "Although we conclude that Echols’s complaint states a valid claim of retaliation under the First Amendment, we agree with the district court that Lawton enjoys qualified immunity because Echols’s right was not clearly established when Lawton violated it. We affirm."

    We need to clearly establish that an elected cog of the justice system should not lie about matters before him. That he should not maliciously lie about facts & law to inflict more punishment on someone wrongly convicted by his office.

    We railroaded an innocent man to jail. We saw proof our case was flawed. We decided that he doesn't deserve to be compensated for us screwing up. We lied. We lied. We enjoy protection from the legal system for these actions because no one ever told us lying is bad.

    And they tell us there aren't multiple levels of law. Dude lies to investigators is facing federal charges. Dude lies to legislators... nothing. An innocent man gets fucked yet again by this asshole in what one has to imagine is just trying to protect his conviction record.

    He deserves 3 times the amount they originally were willing to offer him.
    The DA needs to be put before the ethics board & taken out of office.
    If the head of the local legal system lies about a wrongful conviction to be vindictive he has no business being in office. Anyone being tried in his jurisdiction should submit these facts to the court and ask how can they possible expect a fair trial when it is proven he can & will lie to protect his conviction rate and so what if an innocent has to suffer because he lies.

    We need to stop believing that the cogs of the legal system never lie, courts have enabled & encouraged this lying by providing them a free pass of qualified immunity when they take actions that if done by a citizen would result in serious charges. How can justice be upheld when not all men are treated equally?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Feb 2019 @ 2:00pm

    LawDirt

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    David, 1 Feb 2019 @ 2:01pm

    Re:

    We need to clearly establish that an elected cog of the justice system should not lie about matters before him. That he should not maliciously lie about facts & law to inflict more punishment on someone wrongly convicted by his office.

    I don't think so. Really, Qualified Immunity is being taken to ridiculous levels. It's like you may not use a time machine and do the exact identical deed in exactly the same situation again after being told it was illegal to start with. But everything else gets a free pass.

    We don't need a precedent for every angle you may not throw a rock on someone's head.

    If you don't understand the basics of your job, you don't get to wear a uniform and impersonate an officer. It's as simple as that. Any successful qualified immunity defense should automatically lead to a writeup of the person's instructors/examiners/superiors who apparently did not do the job they were paid for, a job essential for ensuring the public's safety.

    Maybe then the mutual ass-covery would be reigned in somewhat.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Feb 2019 @ 2:02pm

    Re: Re: Let's agree that trolls are vermin.

    "Mean" is not socially acceptable in our anti-bullying world that is connected 24/7.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Professor Swackenhauer, 1 Feb 2019 @ 2:28pm

    Re: Re: Let's SEE that Techdirt isn't for "free speech".

    I'm sorry, I don't see any actual on-topic comments.

    It's a broad point that lawyers protect lawyers.

    No please cite the common law that says we shouldn't downvote you?

    Because I wrote nothing out of the ordinary for the site. Nowhere near the classic entrely unprovoked "ignorant motherfucker" remark (anyone new can see link below). That IS common law, "Gary": shortest expression being The Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

    Others carry over attacks to next topic -- as you do, having attacked me dozens of times just because I comment, but I guess that too is "different" for ME.


    Why didn't and doesn't "ignorant motherfucker" (in case at link not even part of ongoing exchange) offend "the community" standard?

    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110621/16071614792/misconceptions-free-abound-why-do-br ains-stop-zero.shtml#c1869

    Written by Timothy Geigner aka "Dark Helmet", whom I suspect is also "Gary".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    Bamboo Harvester (profile), 1 Feb 2019 @ 2:29pm

    Re: Re: The right to have rights

    It doesn't appear to even BE a tort (or any other law) claim from the article.

    He wasn't suing. The General Assembly proposed a Bill that would give him money.

    Is that a Georgia thing? I've never heard of a State Assembly doing anything like this.

    Generally, a Suit is filed for damages, recompense, restitution, etc., the State makes an out of court offer of settlement. It's either accepted or it goes to court and a jury decides.

    But the money lost by the State in a settlement of any sort is out of a General fund set aside for just such expenses. It's not voted on per case by the State Assembly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Feb 2019 @ 2:29pm

    However, this dishonesty should get him disbarred.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Professor Swackenhauer, 1 Feb 2019 @ 2:34pm

    Re: Re: Re: Let's SEE that Techdirt isn't for "free speech&

    Since you're interested "Gary", here's my case:

    Masnick actually (for once, partially) answered me here: https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20180130/22212639127/we-need-to-shine-light-private-online-c ensorship.shtml#c380 You should of course read that first.

    Instead of a Commenting Guidelines page easily found, we're all supposed to read EVERY comment in every prior topic? How are new users to know this?

    "The rest we leave up to the community to handle via the voting system."

    But what I ask is how does that "system" work! It's no answer to say "system"!

    Now that after years of my asking Masnick has stated a few points, in characteristic way his "answer" only raise even more questions!

    But first note that the SOLE source for answers is the entity in question, with NO way to check. I know for sure from experience that cannot rely on Techdirt's self-interest to be truthful.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Professor Swackenhauer, 1 Feb 2019 @ 2:35pm

    Re: Re: Re: Let's SEE that Techdirt isn't for "free speech&

    Had to piece this up! Don't blame me for that, either!

    IS THERE SOME PERSON WHO OKAYS THE HIDING OF COMMENTS? Administrator action is SAME as "Moderator", then. -- Of course Masnick took opportunity of inexact word to evade whether anyone is administrating the site.

    Since sometimes comments are "Held For Moderation" and yet Masnick states that there is NO "Moderator", it again proves my prior point that phrase is simply a lie, it's a black hole in which unwanted comments are left.

    What guidelines does "the community" go by? Make it up as go along?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Professor Swackenhauer, 1 Feb 2019 @ 2:36pm

    Re: Re: Re: Let's SEE that Techdirt isn't for "free speech&

    Why didn't and doesn't "ignorant motherfucker" (in case at link not even part of ongoing exchange) offend "the community" standard? http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110621/16071614792/misconceptions-free-abound-why-do-br ains-stop-zero.shtml#c1869

    Who is this "community"? How is it different from my definition of "piratey fanboy trolls": of uniform nature, supportive of the site, and needlessly vulgar as exampled above?

    Where do I go to complain to them, then?

    Is there ANY appeal from this "system", or is it Soviet style: The People Have Spoken?

    Why does this "community" consistently ONLY "hide" the comments of dissenters?

    If this "community" has control over Techdirt's content, where does that authority stem from? And again, where is this alleged right of "editing" (pre-pending comments with implicit warning that may be offensive, and imposing a burden of unusual effort even to see) stated?

    Masnick states that Techdirt has ceded control to this "community". Goes with prior opinion of the forms contract with HTML input field: it's a PUBLIC site, then.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Professor Swackenhauer, 1 Feb 2019 @ 2:37pm

    Re: Re: Re: Let's SEE that Techdirt isn't for "free speech&

    Is not "hiding", which observably here only disadvantages dissent, on the slippery slope to viewpoint discrimination and censoring?

    To have any input means allowing Techdirt / Google to run javascript, so THERE'S A PRICE TO PAY.

    To EVEN SEE the hidden comments means allowing Techdirt / Google to run javascript, so THERE'S A PRICE TO PAY.

    How many clicks are required to "hide" comments out of how many readers?

    How is this a "voting" system since there's no evident counter to it? -- Do the "insightful" or "funny" buttons offset "report"? -- Certainly not after the hiding is triggered, so evidently it's one-sided "voting", rather Soviet again.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Professor Swackenhauer, 1 Feb 2019 @ 2:38pm

    Re: Re: Re: Let's SEE that Techdirt isn't for "free speech&

    Hope the last, again, don't blame me for Techdirt's wacky limit! Nothing changed, just length I guess.

    Isn't this disadvanting viewpoints by "hiding" an offense to "free speech", besides the practical effort and time of clicking?

    What does "report" on the button imply? Is there any difference in that between offensive and simply don't want to see the viewpoint?

    And you let this "system" potentially discriminate against viewpoints with NO administrative control?

    Are there any administrative controls in Techdirt's software that allow: 1) hiding comments in same manner as the alleged "community"? 2) blocking IP addresses? 3) blocking specific browser sessions even temporarily?

    Have / Are those administrative controls ever used?

    How many persons have administrative control, even partial, over Techdirt?

    Without numbers stated, this "system" may be only one fanboy, then. -- And surely an administrator, because I'm again getting browser sessions poisoned after making one comment. -- In my theory, the random delays mentioned show that an "administrator" hasn't yet taken action.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. icon
    Bamboo Harvester (profile), 1 Feb 2019 @ 2:46pm

    Re: Car equivalent

    Well, no.

    Qualified Immunity is how we shield Law Enforcement from personal retribution for actions during their "normal course of duties".

    That shield is the Town/County/State Government is responsible for those actions. (In Theory - I'm a realist).

    So if a cop runs over a pedestrian while he's on the clock, no matter what vehicle he's driving (there are some exceptions), you can't sue the cop personally for damages, you have to sue the State (or whatever level he's responsible to).

    If a cop OFF the clock runs over a pedestrian, he CAN be sued personally - but the police / town / etc can't be.

    Qualified Immunity is a great idea. But, like all great ideas, once humans get involved it becomes a way to make money and dodge responsibility.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 1 Feb 2019 @ 2:47pm

    Re:

    Whoops, tautology!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Feb 2019 @ 2:48pm

    Re: Re: Re: The right to have rights

    It doesn't appear to even BE a tort (or any other law) claim from the article.

    Oh, for pete's sake. The article links and embeds the decision of a court. That court is named the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. The court is rendering a decision in a case. Specifically, an appeal from the a decison of a lower court, the United States District Court for the District of Georgia. The case is captioned (in short) Echols v Lawton. Echols is the plaintiff-appellant, and Lawton is the defendant-appellee.

    What part of that can't you read?

    The plaintiff Douglas Echols, brought a lawsuit against the defendant, Spencer Lawton, under 42 USC § 1983, that section being entitled “Civil action for deprivation of rights”.

    From that decision p.2—

    Echols sued Lawton for violating his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The district court dismissed Echols’s complaint based on qualified immunity.

    What part of all that — can't you read? For pete's sake.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Feb 2019 @ 3:35pm

    Re:

    not only that the should spend 7 years in prison, without protective custody,,Let those thugs attack him like vultures.Maybe Cruel and unusual punishment should apply to bad cops and prosecutors. They broke the law they don't deserve those protections

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Smartassicus the Roman, 1 Feb 2019 @ 4:04pm

    Kill all the lawyers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 1 Feb 2019 @ 5:01pm

    Re: Re: The right to have rights

    Does that mean he should have sued in state court, and not Federal court?

    Or he should have stated a different claim than 1st Amendment?

    Where does libel lie under the different constructions, state v Federal?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Feb 2019 @ 5:19pm

    Re: Re: Re: The right to have rights

    Does that mean he should have sued in state court, and not Federal court?

    Also from Judge Pryor's opinion, again on p.22

    Echols could have also filed a claim under state tort law against Lawton. See [citation].

    Without looking into it further myself, I don't know whether Judge Pryor's assertion here should be read to imply that such a suit under state tort law would be successful. An assertion that someone “could have also filed a claim” might possibly be read closely enough for someone to wonder just exactly what might indeed happen to said claim, in due course, after its filing.

    Or he should have stated a different claim than 1st Amendment?

    Well, the first amendment claim was dismissed, and therefore not ultimately successful for this plaintiff.

    Where does libel lie under the different constructions, state v Federal?

    Libel is generally governed by the laws of the various states (although, given the proper circumstances, and not infrequently, a state law claim may nevertheless be heard in a federal forum).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 1 Feb 2019 @ 5:46pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: The right to have rights

    Thank you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    Personanongrat, 1 Feb 2019 @ 5:55pm

    Spineless in Kangaroo Court

    Court: Qualified Immunity Protects District Attorney Who Lied To State Legislators About A Wrongfully-Convicted Man

    Qualified Immunity is every spineless federal/state court jesters (ie judges) favorite hiding place while abdicating their oaths of office in allowing petty bureaucratic tyrants to run amok due to a lack of legal precedent (ie spine).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. icon
    Gary (profile), 1 Feb 2019 @ 5:56pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Let's SEE that Troll

    Seriously Blue, why don't you show us your wonderful website with your amazing non-censored content where everyone is free and people don't make five nonsensical non-replies?

    "Google."

    All that - and you still didn't explain what common law means to you.

    I know since TD hold power over your comments it infuriates you. (Google).

    But why should we care - you haven't explained jack Blue.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Feb 2019 @ 7:24pm

    Although Lawton clearly would have had fair notice that his alleged writing constituted libel per se under state tort law, he would not have understood that his alleged libel would have violated the First Amendment.

    I am not a lawyer, but I know enough to say that doing something like this would just be god damned wrong. That a lawyer supposedly doesn't and can get away with it is abhorrent. He and the judges that let him off should be fired, disbarred, and publicly shamed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. identicon
    Sok Puppette, 1 Feb 2019 @ 7:30pm

    Re: Re: Car equivalent

    Screw that.

    If I drive a delivery van for Bob's Flower shop, and I run over a pedestrian, there are ways to come after both Bob and me.

    And if I rough somebody up in the course of my delivery rounds, you can damn well bet there are ways to come after both of us. Even if I had a good faith belief that interfering with floral delivery was a beating offense.

    There is zero reason for the cop to have any more protection than I have.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. identicon
    David, 2 Feb 2019 @ 1:43am

    Re:

    Only when the last lawyer has been killed will you realize that you cannot sue a tree.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 2 Feb 2019 @ 2:15am

    Re: Re:

    "We don't need a precedent for every angle you may not throw a rock on someone's head."

    But the problem is the current system is based on this idea. No one ever told the officer that shoving a billy club up the ass of someone in custody was a rights violation. The next guy used a broom handle. The next guy a plunger handle.

    They are rewarded for pushing the envelope further and further, getting a naughty naughty and looking for a way to do it again that has never been covered in a lawsuit.

    This DA lied to legislators who were voting on if he should be compensated for being jailed for a crime it is now clear he did not commit. The courts punted and said well no ones ever done this before & while we feel your pain and think this is horrible... no one ever told the DA that misleading legislators about what his office was or was not doing in the case of a man proven innocent and that information was the basis for screwing him out of restitution so you can't sue him.

    He lied to legislators, any defense attorney can & will bring this before any court raising questions on if the DA's office can be trusted. They screwed an innocent man, how can we expect they will treat the accused properly? Lying to work to deny someone compensation for being imprisoned while they were innocent, that seems like a really low stunt to pull. Was the DA more concerned about his reputation that justice? How many other innocent people has he lied about? How many of them had no recourse being destitute?

    We get told ignorance of the law is no excuse... but if you have a badge or bar card it is. A majority of QI cases are based on courts wanting to protect the cogs rather than tarnish the image of the office... the problem is the image grows more tarnished everytime an officer says I didn't know stuffing my hands into her pants on the side of the road might violate her rights.

    We count on these officers to make split second decisions about life & death but we have to accept they were to stupid to know that ignoring someone seizing in the jail cell for hours required them to do something sooner than 12 hours later. That punching someone who is restrained in a chair in the head 42 times is bad. That using hoses spraying boiling water on a mentally ill man until you boil him alive maybe just maybe might be a rights violation.

    When the system fears delivering well deserved punishment to those who violate the law, simply because the cogs might do something mean back... your system has failed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 2 Feb 2019 @ 2:40am

    [W]e too condemn Lawton’s alleged conduct. But the Supreme Court has long ruled that qualified immunity protects a badly behaving official unless he had fair notice that his conduct would violate the Constitution…

    It's a good thing for said official that 'libel' is a concept that only sprang into being after this case, and before that the very idea that lying about someone's actions to the point of accusing them of criminal conduct was wrong was simply inconceivable.

    Just imagine how utterly batshit insane their ruling would be if libel had been in the law for many, many years, and lying to politicians being a bad thing was fairly well known. It would leave them looking like gutless worms, desperate to find something, anything they could use to avoid having to punish a DA, someone who has absolutely no excuse not to know those things, such that the best case scenario for him was that he was grossly incompetent and lacked even the most basic knowledge of the law.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 2 Feb 2019 @ 2:43am

    Re: Re: Car equivalent

    So if a cop runs over a pedestrian while he's on the clock, no matter what vehicle he's driving (there are some exceptions), you can't sue the cop personally for damages, you have to sue the State (or whatever level he's responsible to).

    I wasn't aware that putting on a uniform strips you of your free will, and therefore personal responsibility, such that it's no longer reasonable to hold you personally responsible for what you personally did.

    Learn something new every day.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Feb 2019 @ 5:13am

    seems to be some widespread anti-lawyer sentiment among the populace. When did that start?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Feb 2019 @ 7:12am

    "...unless he proved his innocence."

    Easy as pie. Innocent until proven guilty

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38. icon
    Gary (profile), 2 Feb 2019 @ 8:52am

    Re: Spineless in Kangaroo Court

    Careful - Judges create common law. You dis judges, you dis Blue.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Feb 2019 @ 8:59am

    Oral argument in 11th Cir

    Douglas Echols v Spencer Lawton (No. 17-13483)
    Oral argument before the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
    Date Argued: November 9th, 2018
    Duration: 32:21

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Feb 2019 @ 9:03am

    Re: Oral argument in 11th Cir

    s/17-13483/17-13843/

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41. identicon
    Anon, 2 Feb 2019 @ 9:07am

    Re: Legally screwed

    I don't understand. The DA acting as DA committed libel. The court says that he personally does not have to pay up for that, because as an agent of the state, he cannot be sued personally for doing his job. Wouldn't that make the state liable for his improper actions instead, since the basis of his immunity is that he was a state actor and he is not personally liable?

    A few judgements assigning liability to the state due to QI and I suspect the courts would be more circumspect about granting immunity.

    Remember, the basis for QI is to prevent a judge, prosecutor, sheriff, prison guard, permit issuer or even a DMV worker from being harassed by being sued over simply doing what is part of their job. They lose immunity by not doing their job egregiously bad. That doesn't excuse any claim against their employer - QI would imply that their "bad" job was done on behalf of their employer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Feb 2019 @ 10:10am

    Re: Re: Legally screwed

    Wouldn't that make the state liable…?

    Never minding for the moment whether the Georgia can be sued for libel consistently with the Eleventh Amendment, what is it that you want a federal judge to do here?

    So Echols sues Lawton, hauling him into the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia. And the Southern Georgia federal court looks at the complaint, and looks at the defendant, and then the judge just up says, “You know what, plaintiff Echols, this fellow you hauled into this here court this morning, defendant Lawton, he can't really be sued for this. So instead, today, this morning, we're going to point the finger at someone who's not even here in this here court this fine morning — Georgia! Georgia, now you're guilty as sin, pay up!”

    Is that about what you want a federal judge to actually do in a case like this?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Feb 2019 @ 12:27pm

    Re: Re:

    Nah the thing is that isn't unusual punishment - they just think they are above it all. Treat them anywhere close to a plebe and they'll be begging for mercy and whining how unfair it is to be treated like everybody else.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44. icon
    Bergman (profile), 3 Feb 2019 @ 3:18am

    Re: Re: Legally screwed

    But the state has sovereignty (somehow) over the People, even though it is a servant and representative of the People, not the master of the People. So the state can't be sued either.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Feb 2019 @ 7:35am

    Re: Re: Re: Legally screwed

    NO!

    What should happen is:

    If there was an honest mistake - the prosecutor should admit it strive to find out it it was a one time problem or a system problem. Was the prosecutor deceived by some form of corruption.

    If it was not an honest mistake in that corruption was involved the 11 amendment should not be used as a get out of jail card for crooked action by whomever.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46. icon
    BentFranklin (profile), 3 Feb 2019 @ 7:35am

    fair notice

    The district attorney did not receive fair notice of what constitutes libel? Wasn't four years of law school sufficient notice? This is nothing more than lawyers protecting other lawyers here.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Feb 2019 @ 10:56pm

    Re:

    Well, no, what the court is saying is not that the lawyer didn't know what libel was (quote: Although Lawton clearly would have had fair notice that his alleged writing constituted libel per se under state tort law); what they're saying is that he didn't know that libeling the Plaintiff in this way violated his Constitutional rights, so he gets QI.

    It's a steaming pile of crap either way. Regardless of whether he knew what laws it may or may not have violated, that Lawton apparently didn't think it was wrong to do what he did is all that's really needed to demonstrate that he's thoroughly morally bankrupt.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  48. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Feb 2019 @ 6:54am

    Re: Re:

    … all that's really needed to demonstrate that he's [defendant is] thoroughly morally bankrupt.

    Recall the applicable standard of review. From Judge Pryor's opinion, on p.5

    We review de novo a dismissal of a complaint for failure to state a claim. We accept the factual allegations in the complaint as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” We also review de novo a grant of qualified immunity.

    (Citations omitted.)

    On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, “We accept the factual allegations in the complaint as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.”

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  49. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Feb 2019 @ 8:44am

    Re: Re: Re:

    I'm not sure what point you're trying to make here. The Defendant's actions may have been legal according to the court, but that doesn't make them any less reprehensible.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  50. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Feb 2019 @ 9:12am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    The Defendant's actions may have been…

    The plaintiff said the defendant did some things. At this stage of the proceedings, we accept plaintiff's version of the facts more-or-less uncritically. The plaintiff says so, and if it's at all plausible, then it must be true — and not merely true, but true in the way that most helps along the plaintiff's story.

    But this attitude, at this stage of the proceedings, is solely in the service of a legal decision and judgment. Is there really a legal case here that ought to move along to the next stage of legal proceedings?

    This attitude, uncritically accepting the plaintiff's version of the story, is neither designed nor fit for making a moral judgment of the defendant's character — outside the limited legal focus of the motion to dismiss.

    If the case had gone further, then we'd need to see some actual evidence.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  51. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Feb 2019 @ 10:02am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    This attitude, uncritically accepting the plaintiff's version of the story, is neither designed nor fit for making a moral judgment of the defendant's character — outside the limited legal focus of the motion to dismiss.

    And the judges do not appear to have done so, although it certainly seems they came very close. However, since it also appears that the central fact of the case isn't in dispute (that the Defendant made the false statement intentionally), I do not think it unreasonable for me to reach the conclusion of "he's a scumbag."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  52. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Feb 2019 @ 10:24am

    Proper Remedies [was Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: ]

    … since it also appears that the central fact of the case isn't in dispute (that the Defendant made the false statement intentionally)…

    Changing focus then, since it further appears that the alleged statement was made to the Georgia legislature, that it had a material effect upon proceedings before that body, and that at the time the statement was made, defendant was an officer of the state.

    Georgia Constitution. Article III

    SECTION VII.

    IMPEACHMENTS

    Paragraph I. Power to impeach. The House of Representatives shall have the sole power to vote impeachment charges against any executive or judicial officer of this state…

    What is the proper conclusion, again?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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