Firm Is Awarded $4.9 Million in Malicious Prosecution Case
Below is a story about a law firm who fought for their falsely accused and wrongly convicted clients. Notice how the Government argued that the law firm put "too many lawyers on the case" and should only be paid half of what they are entitled. Certainly, any attorney who has fought for the falsely accused to prevent him or her from being the wrongly convicted would scoff at this assertion particularly in the Military, where the Government likely will have three prosecutors and numerous investigators working a case to obtain a wrongful conviction. Compared to the ease in which prosecutors have obtained convictions against innocent accused, it is an extraordinarily more difficult task to have the wrongly convicted exonerated and compensated for the 20 years they spent in prison. A heartly congratulations is in order to the attorneys at Neufeld, Scheck, & Brustin who fought hard for their clients and convinced the judge they earned every penny they billed.
"Attorneys at Neufeld Scheck & Brustin were entitled to the sum for their years of work representing John Restivo and Dennis Halstead in a hard-fought civil rights litigation, Eastern District Judge Joanna Seybert determined Monday.
Restivo and Halstead were convicted for the 1984 rape and murder of a teenage girl. Yet they and another man, John Kogut, were freed in 2003 when DNA from the victim's body did not match the three defendants.
Kogut had initially admitted to the crime but later said he was forced into a false confession. He was the only member of the trio to be retried; in 2005, he was acquitted at a bench trial.
In 2006, Restivo and Halstead filed one lawsuit and Kogut filed another. They were later joined. Among other claims, the suits contended evidence fabrication, police suppression of exculpatory evidence and intentional mishandling of the investigation.
The civil case for the three men went to trial in 2012, lasting 31 days over an 11-week period. A jury found for the county.
In 2013, Seybert said Restivo and Halstead deserved another trial because of the admission of Kogut's confession and related defects with the jury charge that may have caused jurors to "improperly consider the Kogut confession in connection with Halstead and Restivo's malicious prosecution claim."
Kogut appealed Seybert's refusal to grant him another trial, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in May affirmed Seybert.
Meanwhile, at a 17-day retrial last year for the other two plaintiffs, jurors gave Restivo and Halstead each $18 million. The sums awarded to Restivo and Halstead equaled $1 million for every year spent in prison.
The verdict was against the county and the deceased lead detective. The county is appealing the verdict and the damages.
In the fee litigation, Neufeld Scheck & Brustin noted the length and complexity of the litigation. They sought $4.5 million in fees, contending they were entitled to the Southern District's prevailing hourly rates, not the Eastern District rates. The firm, represented in the fee litigation by Leon Friedman of Manhattan, also sought about $320,000 in costs and $97,000 for the cost of the fee petition.
Nassau County said a proper fee and cost award would be $2.1 million, arguing the firm should receive the Eastern District rate and not be compensated for time spent on claims that were either dismissed, withdrawn or abandoned.
Moreover, the county complained the firm put too many lawyers on the case, billed travel time as attorney time and spent excessive time on calls and meetings."
(Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with any of the attorneys at Neufeld, Scheck, & Brustin)