In short


Other legal matters in brief

US Supreme Court upholds immunity of prosecutors

THE US Supreme Court last week threw out a lawsuit from a Los Angeles man who spent 24 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, and ruled that county prosecutors are shielded from being sued, even if their management mistakes led to mistaken convictions.

In a 9-0 decision, the court expanded the rule that prosecutors are immune from suits for any actions “directly connected with the conduct of a trial”. The justices said prosecutors should not have to work in fear that resentful crime suspects may sue them later.

Thomas Goldstein, a former marine, was charged with a shooting in his Long Beach neighbourhood in 1979, even though there was little evidence to tie him to the crime. Investigators arranged to put a heroin addict and police informer, Edward Fink, into a jail cell with Goldstein, and Fink recounted that Goldstein had confessed to the crime.

Goldstein was convicted of the murder in 1980 and spent 24 years in prison before a judge ordered him released. In the intervening years, a grand jury in Los Angeles had issued a devastating report on the misuse of jailhouse informants by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.

On his release, Goldstein sued former LA County district attorney John Van de Kamp and his chief deputy, Curt Livesay, and asserted that their management failure led to his wrongful conviction. He said they had failed to create a system to track the use of jailhouse informants.

The prosecutors in Goldstein’s case did not know that Fink had testified in numerous other cases and received reduced sentences for doing so.

Last year, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Van de Kamp’s claim of immunity and cleared Goldstein’s suit to proceed. The appeals court said prosecutors were immune from suits involving their courtroom actions, but not their management decisions. The Supreme Court rejected that distinction last Monday. – (LA Times-Washington Post service)

EU Commission criticised

The European Ombudsman, P Nikiforos Diamandouros, has urged the European Commission to set up a comprehensive register of the documents it produces or receives. This follows a complaint from the British NGO, Statewatch, about the Commission’s failure to register the vast majority of its documents.

EU legislation on public access to EU documents requires EU institutions to set up public registers of the documents they receive and produce. Statewatch first complained to the Ombudsman about the EU Commission’s failure to do so in 2006

Seminar on construction law

The Bar Council is holding a seminar on construction law on February 7th from 9am to 1pm in the Distillery Building, Church Street, Dublin. The seminar will deal with experiences of the GCCC contracts since their introduction in February 2007 and the area of global claims.

Mr Justice Brian McGovern will chair the event. The speakers include Gerard Meehan BL, Mark Sanfey SC, John Trainor SC, Anthony Hussey, solicitor, and Michael Stimpson BL.

The Continuous Professional Development seminar costs €100, and €50 for barristers of fewer than five years’ practice. Further details from the Bar Council.

Criminal law conference

Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman will chair a conference on criminal law, organised by First Law and the Centre for Criminal Justice and Human Rights in UCC, in the Law Society, Blackhall Place, Dublin, on April 25th.

Topics to be discussed include “A two-tier criminal law system, common law and regulatory enforcement”, and “Is the traditional role of the DPP diminishing?”

Speakers will include Michael McDowell, SC; James Hamilton, DPP; Paul Appleby, Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement; Declan Walsh, UCC; Prof Colin Scott, UCD; David McFadden, Competition Authority; Gerard O’Leary, EPA; and Prof Irene Lynch Fanning, UCC. Continuous Professional Development points will be available.

Law Society complaints committee

There were 36 complaints on the agenda at the first meeting in 2009 of the Law Society’s Complaints and Client Relations Committee, which met on January 16th last. It was the first committee set up by ministerial order under the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, which provides for a lay majority on the committee for the first time. This came into operation on January 1st.

New managing partner at Eversheds

Alan Murphy has been appointed managing partner at Eversheds O’Donnell Sweeney, replacing Francis Hackett, who acted in this position for six years. Mr Murphy was previously a partner in the property division.