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Acquitted Attorney Can't Sue Prosecutors, 7th Cir. Rules

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

No good deed goes unpunished, and you can't even sue for it.

That's a summary of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals' decision in Katz-Crank v. Haskett, which says an acquitted lawyer is barred from suing government officials who unsuccessfully prosecuted her. Here's what happened:

An attorney discovered her client was committing fraud and reported him to authorities. But they already knew about it and were investigating whether the attorney was involved. They charged her with aiding and abetting, and she was acquitted. She sued, and a judge dismissed. The court of appeals affirmed.

Two Words: Prosecutorial Immunity

The Seventh Circuit said Sherry Katz-Crank's claims were barred by prosecutorial immunity or the 11th Amendment. Apparently, the attorney didn't know about the 11th Amendment. Here's a refresher:

"The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State."

That means you can't sue citizens in their official capacities.

The court also said the attorney's claims were barred by the "robust immunity from federal tort liability, 'whether common law or constitutional ... or acts they commit within the scope of their employment as prosecutors.'" However, the majority said, it was a close call on her claims that prosecutors issued false and inflammatory press releases. A prosecutor's statements to the media are not entitled to absolute immunity.

Problems With the Press Releases

Judge Richard Posner, concurring and dissenting, said the attorney's complaint could be read to make a due process claim under 14th Amendment. Posner said Kimberly Haskett, the lead investigator, also crossed the immunity line by calling Katz-Crank's clients and telling them that the attorney was under criminal investigation.

Although not part of its decision, the court noted that this was not the first time Katz-Crank had informed on a client. In 2004, she had reported that a client had misappropriated funds. He was convicted of fraud.

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