ECBA is proud to announce that partners Richard Emery, Andrew Celli, Matthew Brinckerhoff, Jonathan Abady, Ilann Maazel, Earl Ward, Hal Lieberman, Dan Kornstein, Andrew Wilson, and Elizabeth Saylor were named as Super Lawyers for 2018. Partners Zoe Salzman and Sam Shapiro were named as Rising Stars. The Super Lawyers list is issued by Thompson Reuters. A description of the selection methodology can be found here.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Ilann M. Maazel, ECBA, 212.763.5000, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sean McElligott, Koskoff, 203.336.4421 email@example.com
September 7, 2018 – Vernon Horn, who was exonerated in April 2018 after spending 17 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, today filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of New Haven, three New Haven detectives, and a state firearms examiner. The New Haven Police Department (NHPD) hid 137 pages of exculpatory phone records in a detective’s home basement, failed to investigate evidence that would have proven Mr. Horn’s innocence, and coerced witnesses against him. Mr. Horn is represented by the law firms of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP and Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, P.C.
Mr. Horn was convicted of murder for a shooting at the Dixwell Deli in New Haven on January 24, 1999. A cell phone stolen from the murder scene was a key piece of evidence at trial. The state claimed that Mr. Horn had taken the phone to Bridgeport, given it to his accomplice, brought it back to New Haven the next day, and lent it to a friend to make a call.
In fact, the stolen cell phone never left Bridgeport, and Mr. Horn never touched it. Evidence proving as much was readily available to the NHPD all along, but detectives never bothered to ask for it. Phone records showed that every call from the stolen cell phone was linked to the same crew of Bridgeport drug dealers. But instead of turning those records over to Mr. Horn, as the Constitution requires, the NHPD buried them in a basement.
This and other new evidence was discovered only because the Federal Public Defender for the District of Connecticut doggedly reinvestigated the case. In April 2018, in response to the new evidence uncovered by the investigation, the State’s Attorney’s Office moved to vacate Mr. Horn’s conviction and dismiss the charges. Mr. Horn’s co-defendant, Marquis Jackson, was also exonerated and released.
Today’s lawsuit, filed in United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, seeks damages for the 17 dehumanizing years that Mr. Horn spent in prison as an innocent man. While in prison, Mr. Horn was assaulted by inmates, strip-searched by guards, held in solitary confinement, and denied essential medical care for serious injuries suffered in a car accident. His young daughter began to grow up without him.
Mr. Horn said:
First and foremost, I would like to thank the Most High for allowing me to make it through this injustice. I would like to thank my attorneys David Keenan and Terence Ward of the Connecticut Federal Public Defender Office for securing my freedom.
What happened to me was not only a crime against me, but it was a crime against humanity. I was falsely prosecuted and lied about by people who are supposed to be public servants. I suffered emotionally, and I was physically and mentally abused in prison. I was not able to go to college and learn the things a man should know. I was taken away from my first child when she was only 10 months old.
After being released, I was put back into the world without any help and without an apology. The thing that hurts the most is that my daughter does not know me. After what happened, I cannot trust anyone or hold on to relationships because I think everyone is trying to hurt me.
I hope that people who are a part of the criminal justice system learn from what was done to me. They need to know that there are more innocent men and women who have been framed and falsely accused. It is real, and it needs to end.
Ilann M. Maazel, partner at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP, and counsel for Mr. Horn, said:
The New Haven Police Department stole the prime of Vernon Horn’s life. This was a complete breakdown in the criminal justice system. We intend to hold the police and everyone responsible for this travesty of justice accountable.
Sean McElligott, a lawyer at Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, P.C., and counsel for Mr. Horn, said:
After seventeen years of lies and betrayal, Vernon Horn will finally have the opportunity to speak the truth through this lawsuit. We look forward to helping him gain some measure of peace after decades of wrongful incarceration and suffering.
Matt Blumenthal, a lawyer at Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, P.C., and counsel for Mr. Horn, said:
We all depend on law enforcement to act with competence and integrity. Vernon Horn suffered a spectacular betrayal of this trust. We are proud to stand with him in his fight for justice and accountability.
The complaint is available here.
ECBA, The Bronx Defenders, and Morrison & Foerster, LLP announced a settlement of a lawsuit challenging widespread delays in misdemeanor cases in Bronx Criminal Court.
The settlement agreement allows the plaintiffs to monitor the court system for the next four years and to re-open the case if not enough progress is made. It also creates a new mechanism for people charged with misdemeanors to request a speedy trial, at which point the court system will be required to track the progress of their case.
Since the May 2016 filing of the lawsuit, Trowbridge v. DiFiore, the number of misdemeanor cases pending for more than a year in the Bronx dropped from 2,378 to 513. The number of misdemeanor cases pending for more than two years dropped from 538 to 64. But more work remains to be done: the proportion of misdemeanor cases that are more than a year old in the Bronx is still twice as high as in any other borough.
“This settlement is only the beginning,” ECBA partner Ilann M. Maazel told the press. “We will be watching the Bronx court system very carefully to make sure that they live up to their promises, achieve parity with the other boroughs, and make speedy trials a reality for everyone in the Bronx.”
ECBA won a landmark ruling allowing a case for rape to proceed under New York City’s Victims of Gender Motivated Violence Protection Act. Justice Robert R. Reed denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss the case, holding that the complaint properly alleged all the elements of the claim.
The New York City Council passed the Act in 2000 to create a private right of action for victims of “gender motivated crimes of violence” like sexual assault and rape to sue their abusers in civil court. The Act also extends the statute of limitations to bring such cases to 7 years. Justice Reed’s ruling gives real meaning to the City’s Act and makes it a powerful and much needed tool for victims of sexual misconduct to seek justice in the courts.
The case is Breest v. Haggis, No. 161137/2017 (N.Y. Sup. Ct.).
Civil Rights Litigation columnist Ilann M. Maazel writes: “Brutality by corrections officers against prisoners remains all too common in jails and prisons throughout New York State. The following is the basic standard for bringing civil rights actions for prison brutality by state or local corrections officers.”
ECBA filed a complaint with New York City’s Human Rights Commission on behalf of Hairo Olivares, an Upper West Side porter at 315 Riverside Drive, alleging years of sexual harassment by the building superintendent and manager. The complaint alleges, among other things, that the superintendent grabbed Mr. Olivares’s crotch and buttocks and made him an ongoing target of harassment and humiliation. ECBA’s Ilann M. Maazel and Emma L. Freeman represent Mr. Olivares.
To learn more, read coverage from the NY Daily News here.
On May 29, 2018, ECBA filed a charge of discrimination with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of Patricia Gunning, a former Special Prosecutor/Inspector General at the NYS Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs. In the charge, Ms. Gunning alleges that James Kiyonaga, who served as Acting Executive Director and Executive Deputy Director during her years at the Justice Center, engaged in a pattern of sexual discrimination and sexual favoritism, creating a hostile work environment. The charge alleges that when Ms. Gunning complained about the abuse, she was retaliated against, leading to her termination. Mr. Kiyonaga currently serves at Executive Deputy Commissioner of the Office of People with Developmental Disabilites.
On March 28, 2018, a federal judge sitting in Maryland allowed a landmark lawsuit against Donald Trump, prompted by his violations of the Domestic and Foreign Emoluments Clauses of the United States Constitution, to go forward, rejecting parts of Mr. Trump’s motion to dismiss the case. On November 28, 2017, ECBA had filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the Plaintiffs on behalf of Sarah P. Chayes, an internationally-recognized expert in corruption and kleptocratic regimes who argued that Trump’s business interests promote corruption, undermine U.S. foreign policy, and threaten American democracy. The Complaint, which was filed on behalf of the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia, is available here. Chayes’s amicus brief is available here. The New York Times, the Washington Post, Slate, and Vox, among other outlets, have covered this recent development.
Civil Rights Litigation columnist Ilann M. Maazel writes: “Qualified immunity is often asserted and litigated in §1983 cases. But some conservative scholars now argue that the doctrine is lawless. This column discusses why.”