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Exoneree Sues New Haven Police for 17 Years of Wrongful Imprisonment

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 Ward & Maazel 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 offered a statement:

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 Ward & Maazel 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.”

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ECBAWM, Avaaz Defeat “Chilling,” “Overbroad,” “Utterly Irrelevant” Monsanto Subpoena

 

In a victory for the First Amendment, a New York judge granted ECBAWM’s motion on behalf of the Avaaz Foundation, a global civic movement, to quash a sweeping document subpoena issued by the Monsanto Company, the multi-billion-dollar agricultural and biotech giant. The subpoena sought access to three-and-a-half years’ worth of Avaaz’s confidential political communications, internal strategy memos, and campaign plans – its political “playbook,” in the judge’s words – for its ongoing, worldwide effort to persuade governments around the world to ban the chemical agent glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup® products. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has concluded that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans,” and a California jury recently found that Roundup® caused a school groundskeeper’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

In quashing the subpoena, Justice Shlomo Hagler of the New York County Supreme Court ruled that Monsanto’s request would have a “tremendous chilling effect” on the protected First Amendment activities of Avaaz and other civic organizations. Giving Monsanto access to Avaaz’s internal communications, Justice Hagler explained, would discourage Avaaz and its members from participating in “a movement they feel is just and right.” Justice Hagler also ruled that the documents Monsanto sought were “utterly irrelevant” to a Missouri lawsuit for which it purportedly sought them. If enforced, the subpoena would have required Avaaz to produce its campaign plans, strategy deliberations, and research to Monsanto. ECBAWM attorneys Andrew G. Celli, Jr. and Doug Lieb represent Avaaz in this matter.

Law360The Guardian, DownToEarth magazine, EcoWatch, and other media outlets have been following the case.

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ECBAWM Files Brief for Public Defenders and Civil Rights Groups Urging Appeals Court to Reconsider Approach to False Evidence Claims

ECBAWM has filed a “friend of the court” brief in the federal appeals court in Manhattan urging the full court to reconsider a recent decision that affects how much time victims of police misconduct have to file civil rights claims in court. The amici curiae brief was filed on behalf of a coalition of organizations that defend indigent people accused of crimes, work to correct wrongful convictions, and protect civil rights. It argues that when someone alleges that police fabricated evidence used to charge him with a crime, the statute of limitations on his civil claim should not start running until the criminal case against him is resolved in his favor. As the brief explains, the recent decision, if not corrected by the full court, could hurt criminal defendants’ ability to defend themselves against charges and lead to the dismissal of valid civil rights claims for technical reasons, even if the plaintiff is the victim of egregious misconduct or has served years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

The groups represented by ECBAWM in the case are the American Civil Liberties Union, Bronx Defenders, Brooklyn Defender Services, Center for Appellate Litigation, Connecticut Innocence Project, The Innocence Project, The Legal Aid Society, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, New York County Defender Services, New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Office of the Appellate Defender, and Vermont Office of the Defender General. ECBAWM attorneys Sam Shapiro, David Lebowitz, Doug Lieb and Ashok Chandran worked on the brief.

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Harlem Black Business Owner Arrested for Being a Business Owner While Black

The law firm of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP (ECBAWM) yesterday evening filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of three Black men who are among the many Black New Yorkers and Black Americans arrested for simply doing the normal things that normal people do—driving a car down the street, having a barbecue, or, in this case, doing one’s job.

Plaintiff Dr. Clyde Pemberton is the CEO of the corporation that owns MIST Harlem, a restaurant and entertainment venue. The complaint alleges that Dr. Pemberton and two MIST employees were arrested on June 1, 2017 simply because they are Black. Dr. Pemberton went to aid a white woman who was unconscious and being dragged through MIST by her two white friends. The ill woman’s friends screamed racial epithets at him and attacked him. MIST employees called 911 for an ambulance. When the paramedics and the police arrived, Dr. Pemberton and two MIST employees were arrested for allegedly falsely imprisoning the ill woman. The police never interviewed them before arresting them.

Plaintiff’s attorney Elizabeth S. Saylor said, “It is time for the NYPD to be held accountable. The NYPD must stop reflexively defending its officers without even conducting an investigation. The NYPD must take real action to stamp out discrimination by holding accountable those officers who violate citizens’ constitutional rights.”

Despite having done nothing but express concern for a patron in danger, suffer an unprovoked racist attack, and try to deescalate a volatile situation, Dr. Pemberton and two other MIST employees were arrested, held at a police station overnight, and forced to go to court to fight charges for several months, before the district attorney finally dismissed the charges.

“This is exactly the kind of interaction that destroys trust in law enforcement in minority communities,” said Ms. Saylor. This incident has left Plaintiffs deeply shaken. They had not previously known the fear, the disrespect, or the pain of being the victims of arbitrary and heavy-handed conduct by the police. Dr. Pemberton had even previously worked with the police. He ran a Harlem-based community mental health center, performed psychological evaluations for the NYPD, and served as a psychiatric consultant to the Newark Police Department. “This lawsuit seeks to remedy the injustice perpetrated by the NYPD,” said Ms. Saylor.

Read coverage of the case in The New York TimesNew York Daily News, New York Post, New York Law Journal, Hip Hop Wired, and The Grio.

The three plaintiffs are represented by Elizabeth Saylor and Doug Lieb.

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ECBAWM Partner Zoe Salzman Named one of City & State’s 40 Under 40 Rising Stars

ECBAWM partner Zoe Salzman was named as one of City & State‘s 2018 40 Under 40 Rising Stars.

Each year, City & State identifies 40 members of the next generation – all under the age of 40 – who are already leaders in elected office and in state offices, in labor and in business, in advocacy and in academia, in government affairs and in journalism.

Ms. Salzman told City & State the “diverse docket” she has at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel “is ideal for her skill set.” “It keeps you sharp,” she says. “It’s thinking really creatively about legal problems.”

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Settlement Reached in Challenge to Bronx Court Delays

ECBAWM, 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,” ECBAWM 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.”

Matthew D. Brinckerhoff, Ilann M. Maazel, and Doug Lieb represented the plaintiffs.

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ECBAWM Wins Landmark Ruling in Rape and Gender Motivated Violence Case

ECBAWM 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 seven 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.). ECBAWM attorneys Jonathan S. Abady, Ilann M. Maazel, and Zoe Salzman represent the plaintiff.

“Publicist Accusing Paul Haggis of Sexual Assault Pursuing Claims With Rarely Used NYC Local Law,” Law.com
“Oscar-winning filmmaker Paul Haggis’ attempt to sue his alleged rape victim for ‘intentional infliction of emotional distress’ is thrown out by a New York judge,” The Daily Mail
“Paul Haggis Must Face Rape Lawsuit in New York,” The Hollywood Reporter
“Paul Haggis must face civil rape suit: judge,” New York Post

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ECBAWM Sues City for Retaliating Against Airbnb Host

On July 18, 2018, ECBAWM filed a federal lawsuit against the City of New York and others on behalf of Stanley “Skip” Karol, a lifelong Brooklyn resident, who uses the Airbnb platform to rent out part of his family home. The suit alleges that, in violation of the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause, the City retaliated against Mr. Karol for his remarks criticizing City officials and policy at a public hearing before the New York City Council on June 26, 2018. Concerned that the legislation pending before the Council would put him in the same category as operators of illegal hotels, Mr. Karol exercised his First Amendment rights by participating in a public hearing on the bill. Days later, City enforcement officials appeared at Mr. Karol’s two-family home in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and issued him four summonses carrying fines of tens of thousands of dollars. The complaint alleges that the enforcement effort aimed at Mr. Karol was retaliatory, and the summonses issued to Mr. Karol are baseless. “People shouldn’t have to worry that when they go home, there’s going to be a knock on the door just because they decided to speak up against the government,” ECBAWM partner Andrew G. Celli, Jr. told the press. The case was covered in Gothamist, the New York PostNew York Daily News, Patch.com, and Newsday and is the subject of a New York Post editorial.

Mr. Karol is represented by ECBAWM attorneys Andrew G. Celli, Jr., Debra Greenberger, and Ashok Chandran.

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Richard D. Emery Awarded Membership in The National Trial Lawyers Top 100

The National Trial Lawyers recently announced that ECBAWM Co-Founder Richard Emery was named to its prestigious Top 100. This invitation-only organization is composed of the premier civil plaintiff and criminal defense trial attorneys across the country. Each member of The National Trial Lawyers Top 100 is chosen for their demonstration of success, experience, influence, and leadership.

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Ilann M. Maazel Published in the New York Law Journal

In “Prison Excessive Force Cases: A Primer,” New York Law Journal 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.”

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