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7th Circuit blasts lawyers in reinstating malicious prosecution suit

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A man wrongly prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned for the arson of Frankton High School more than 10 year ago was ultimately freed, but the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday blistered attorneys in a subsequent malicious prosecution lawsuit who successfully argued in the U.S. District Court for dismissal of the man's federal complaint.

The panel reversed and remanded in Billy Julian v. Sam Hanna, et. al., 13-1203, reinstating his 42 U.S.C. § 1983 malicious prosecution suit.

In 2003, Billy Julian was convicted of arson and other crimes related to the 2001 fire at the Madison County school, and he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. During post-conviction relief, he was able to prove that a key witness who claimed he met Julian at the school before the fire actually had been on home detention and could not have been at the scene without triggering an ankle monitor, which hadn’t happened.

Julian was released in 2006, but the state sought to retry him, scheduling a retrial in 2007 while Julian was considering suing Madison County sheriff’s officer Sam Hanna and others. “The defendants threatened Julian in an effort to deter him from filing a suit for malicious prosecution,” Judge Richard Posner wrote for the panel.

The suit also names as a defendant current Frankton Police Chief David Huffman, who was a town officer at the time of Julian’s arrest. Hanna now serves as police chief in Elwood, also in Madison County.

“On the advice of lawyers whom he consulted he decided to defer filing such a suit until the judgment in his retrial ... but the trial date kept getting rescheduled.  ... In  July (2010) the state dismissed all the charges against Julian. He filed this suit in November 2011.”

The panel ruled that District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt of the Southern District of Indiana in Indianapolis wrongly dismissed Julian’s complaint with prejudice in a ruling that agreed with defendants who argued Julian’s suit was untimely. “But she was mistaken,” Posner wrote. “Under both state and federal law a malicious prosecution claim does not accrue until the criminal proceeding that gave rise to it ends in the claimant’s favor.”

Julian’s claim therefore was timely, the panel held in an opinion that also took to task arguments proffered by the defense. The defense argued Julian had remedies in state court for false arrest and false imprisonment, but the panel held these were inadequate remedies because the state held out the possibility of retrying him for years.

“After being released from prison in May 2006, Julian remained in limbo for more than four years. Limbo is not as bad as hell, but it’s sufficiently bad that it can’t be written off completely,” Posner wrote. “Yet that is what the defendants ask us to do: recognize no remedy for malicious prosecution by Indiana public officers, leaving the defendant remediless if he manages to avoid jail or prison for any of the time for which he’s maliciously prosecuted.”

“Defense counsel exceeded the bounds of responsible advocacy by arguing … that because the absolute immunity from suits against state officers for malicious prosecution was decreed by the Indiana legislature, it satisfies due process — ‘legislative due process’ — and therefore bars this suit,” Posner wrote. “Were that correct it would mean that the Indiana legislature, provided only that it complied with its procedures governing legislative enactment, could with impunity strip residents of Indiana of all their federal and state constitutional rights.

“In holding that Indiana’s failure to provide an adequate remedy for malicious prosecution by public officers opens the door to federal malicious prosecution suits against such officers, we don’t mean to belittle the state’s interest in limiting officers’ liability,” the panel held, noting several states have enacted caps in such cases.

“A qualified immunity would not protect the deliberately wrongful (indeed outrageous) conduct alleged in Julian’s complaint.”
 

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  • Better
    And here is yet more commentary, from respected lawyer Gary Welch, on the crisis of justice in this legal banana republic: "that's not the case in this county and this state where two forms of justice exist: one for the ruling elites where the law is always a moving target and another for the rest of us serfs where the law is always firmly written in stone" Read in context at: http://www.advanceindiana.com/
  • Responsible journalism?
    It seems that the comments section of this website is managed so that comments that the PTB do not want to see highlighted are buried. Sad.
  • 7th got this one right
    As a fourth generation Indiana lawyer, three of which before me were from Madison County, I think the 7th Circuit got this one right. Reprisal and revenge are a big deal in Madison County so I won't name names. You saw what Hanna and his boys were trying o do here. My advice: Stay they hell AWAY from there, keep your kids the hell AWAY from there, and if you ever have a brush with the law up there, hire local counsel, but research who it is first to make sure they're connected properly.
  • SOS
    The Seventh Circuit gets it that there are massive injustices in the Indiana system. Indiana's sense of justice often fails to rise above third world status. Check out Loubser v. Thacker, which was actually a case against the Hoosier court system of former Chief Justice Randall Shepard, http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1353347.html In Loubser, as here, the Seventh seemed incredulous as to what goes on in the courts of Indiana. Judge Pratt should not be caught up in the shell games that render justice much injustice, but in this case she was. We need a bevy of new "sheriffs" in Indiana, and the Seventh seems to get that. "Outrageous" they said. Sounds like a billion dollars in damages, plaintiff. Make them pay for their injustice system.
  • Right on!
    Good to know the 7th Circuit slapped down corrupt government officials, mean attorneys, and unjust judges.

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  1. I like the concept. Seems like a good idea and really inexpensive to manage.

  2. I don't agree that this is an extreme case. There are more of these people than you realize - people that are vindictive and/or with psychological issues have clogged the system with baseless suits that are costly to the defendant and to taxpayers. Restricting repeat offenders from further abusing the system is not akin to restricting their freedon, but to protecting their victims, and the court system, from allowing them unfettered access. From the Supreme Court opinion "he has burdened the opposing party and the courts of this state at every level with massive, confusing, disorganized, defective, repetitive, and often meritless filings."

  3. So, if you cry wolf one too many times courts may "restrict" your ability to pursue legal action? Also, why is document production equated with wealth? Anyone can "produce probably tens of thousands of pages of filings" if they have a public library card. I understand this is an extreme case, but our Supreme Court really got this one wrong.

  4. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

  5. JOE CLAYPOOL candidate for Superior Court in Harrison County - Indiana This candidate is misleading voters to think he is a Judge by putting Elect Judge Joe Claypool on his campaign literature. paragraphs 2 and 9 below clearly indicate this injustice to voting public to gain employment. What can we do? Indiana Code - Section 35-43-5-3: Deception (a) A person who: (1) being an officer, manager, or other person participating in the direction of a credit institution, knowingly or intentionally receives or permits the receipt of a deposit or other investment, knowing that the institution is insolvent; (2) knowingly or intentionally makes a false or misleading written statement with intent to obtain property, employment, or an educational opportunity; (3) misapplies entrusted property, property of a governmental entity, or property of a credit institution in a manner that the person knows is unlawful or that the person knows involves substantial risk of loss or detriment to either the owner of the property or to a person for whose benefit the property was entrusted; (4) knowingly or intentionally, in the regular course of business, either: (A) uses or possesses for use a false weight or measure or other device for falsely determining or recording the quality or quantity of any commodity; or (B) sells, offers, or displays for sale or delivers less than the represented quality or quantity of any commodity; (5) with intent to defraud another person furnishing electricity, gas, water, telecommunication, or any other utility service, avoids a lawful charge for that service by scheme or device or by tampering with facilities or equipment of the person furnishing the service; (6) with intent to defraud, misrepresents the identity of the person or another person or the identity or quality of property; (7) with intent to defraud an owner of a coin machine, deposits a slug in that machine; (8) with intent to enable the person or another person to deposit a slug in a coin machine, makes, possesses, or disposes of a slug; (9) disseminates to the public an advertisement that the person knows is false, misleading, or deceptive, with intent to promote the purchase or sale of property or the acceptance of employment;

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