Saturday, July 05, 2014

Judge Wants Wrongful Conviction Case Settled

Jabbar Collins Sued For Millions of Dollars After He was Exonerated in 2010

A federal judge wants city and state prosecutors to work together to settle a Brooklyn man's multimillion-dollar wrongful conviction lawsuits and avoid going to trial.

U.S. District Judge Frederic Block called a hearing on June 24 in the three-year-old civil lawsuit filed against the city by Jabbar Collins, who served almost 16 years in prison for the murder of a rabbi before he was exonerated in 2010.

At the hearing, the judge urged Zachary Carter, who heads the city law department, and New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to try to "make an effort to see whether the case can be resolved short of any of these trials."

"That is on the record," Judge Block said. "Hopefully, this is [of] some value in moving the process along."

It is yet to be seen what impact the judge's comments have on attempts to settle the cases, and the parties don't have to heed his advice.

Mr. Collins has pending wrongful conviction lawsuits in both federal and state courts against former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, his former chief of the rackets bureau, Michael Vecchione, and others. Mr. Hynes referred questions to the city law department, which declined to comment on the suits. Mr. Vecchione couldn't be reached for comment but in the past has denied any wrongdoing.

Judge Block's comments come shortly after the city reached a settlement in June with the "Central Park Five" for $41 million. Those men served nearly 41 years, combined, in prison after being convicted as teens in the beating and rape of a woman jogger in Central Park in 1989. Their convictions were overturned and dismissed in 2002 after a convicted serial murderer and rapist claimed he committed the attack alone.

Once the Central Park Five's settlement is paid out, the city will have spent nearly $103 million on police misconduct and civil rights settlements this year, more than in all of 2013.

Mr. Collins's federal lawsuit alleges civil rights violations, in which, to succeed, he has to show uncorrected misconduct by prosecutors. The state lawsuit deals only with whether Mr. Collins can convince a Court of Claims judge that he is innocent. Mr. Carter's office is defending the federal claim, and Mr. Schneiderman's office is defending the Court of Claims case. Both declined to comment.

Mr. Collins, the subject of a Wall Street Journal page one article in 2010, was a 10th grade dropout with an equivalency diploma who took some college classes before he was arrested. After his 1995 murder conviction, he taught himself records laws and filed scores of requests for documents regarding his criminal case.

Those requests elicited documents, including some that hadn't been given to his trial attorney. Eventually, Mr. Collins and his lawyer, Joel Rudin, were able to build a case that Mr. Collins had been wrongfully convicted.

Three government witnesses whose testimony helped convict Mr. Collins recanted. In June 2010, Mr. Collins's conviction was set aside by a federal judge who called his prosecution "shameful."

Kevin Richardson, an executive assistant district attorney in Brooklyn at the time, said at the time his office was reluctantly dismissing the case, and maintained Mr. Collins was guilty.

But at a deposition in December as part of Mr. Collins's lawsuits, Mr. Hynes said he came to believe four years ago that Mr. Collins wasn't guilty.

According to a deposition transcript reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Hynes said Mr. Richardson wasn't speaking for the office when he said he still believed Mr. Collins was guilty. Mr. Richardson couldn't be reached for comment and a lawyer for Mr. Hynes declined to comment.

Mr. Hynes also said he wasn't aware of any evidence tying Mr. Collins to the murder and that there "has never been any doubt in my mind" that there was "a failure of ethical responsibility on the part of someone involved in that case," according to the transcript.

At the June 24 hearing, it was revealed that the city and Mr. Rudin began discussing a possible settlement in the case. Mr. Rudin told the judge, "we made some progress, but we are still very far apart." Specific amounts weren't discussed in court.

At that hearing, Mr. Rudin said complicating a settlement with the city is the parallel lawsuit being defended by Mr. Schneiderman's office.

Mr. Rudin said after the hearing that he sent a letter to Mr. Schneiderman's office in May outlining the case for Mr. Collins' innocence. Mr. Rudin said he proposed a settlement figure, which he wouldn't divulge. Mr. Rudin said he hasn't received a response.

Earlier this year, Mr. Schneiderman proposed legislation to make it less onerous for those who have been wrongfully convicted to collect settlements.

At the hearing, Judge Block set a federal trial date of Oct. 20 and said there will be no further delays. But he added, "the case will probably be settled, I suspect. That is my guess. We will see."

Original report here




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