Caldwell argues case before Supreme Court

Caldwell argues case before Supreme Court
Wednesday, October 6, 2010 - 1:24pm

WASHINGTON, DC -- Today, the Louisiana Attorney General’s office and the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office present oral arguments to the United States Supreme Court in the case of Connick v. Thompson.

Louisiana Attorney General James D. “Buddy” Caldwell and Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon A. Cannizzaro, Jr., are asking the United States Supreme Court to reverse lower courts who have held the city of New Orleans liable for $14 million damages in a jury award on a new theory of “failing to adequately train its prosecutors” on Brady v. Maryland (evidence favorable to a defendant), that was deemed withheld during the Harry Connick administration. The state claims in its brief that the prosecutors (unlike police training in the use of deadly weapons, which is necessary) are already trained in these areas of law, were actually trained in this case, and had supervisory oversight as well. The prosecutor in question withheld blood type evidence in the earlier case despite all the training.

Defendant John Thompson was deemed wrongfully convicted of attempted armed robbery in 1985, based on a prosecutor’s deliberate withholding of evidence of blood type that should have cleared the defendant, despite other evidence of guilt. Aided by that conviction, Thompson was later convicted of murder and spent 14 years on death row. Thompson was eventually released from prison when the suppressed evidence came to light. The State of Louisiana settled Mr. Thompson’s wrongful conviction claim for the maximum statutory amount of $190,000.

Thompson then sued the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office on the theory that the office had not adequately trained its prosecutors to disclose favorable evidence. A jury awarded him $14 million.

Attorney General Buddy Caldwell stated, “This case has far-reaching implications. If the judgment is upheld, it will allow district attorneys’ offices to be sued every time one of their prosecutors commits a simple mistake, that the District Attorney had no way of preventing.”

The precedent set in this case would open district attorneys’ offices to potentially massive liability. The $14 million judgment in this case is more than the annual operating budget of the office.

“Given the present financial condition of the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana, this judgment, if it is upheld, will dramatically harm our ability to prosecute violent criminals. My office and the Attorney General’s office are prepared to present the court with a well reasoned legal argument that the judgment received by Thompson in the trial court does not withstand legal scrutiny,” said Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro.

The petitioner’s side will be argued by Kyle Duncan, Appellate Chief of the Louisiana Department of Justice with Caldwell participating as needed.

“We are hopeful that the United States Supreme Court will rule in favor of what we will argue is well-settled law,” Caldwell said.

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