innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Monday, November 27, 2006

This article appeared in the New York Times on November 21, 2006:

Ex-Inmate’s Malpractice Suit Is Settled With Noted Lawyers

By WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM

Barry C. Scheck and Peter J. Neufeld, founders of a legal clinic that pioneered the use of DNA technology to help free innocent prisoners, have agreed to pay $900,000 to a man wrongly convicted of rape who sued them for malpractice, lawyers on both sides of the case said yesterday.

The man, Lee Long, had sued Mr. Scheck; Mr. Neufeld; another lawyer, Nick Joel Brustin; and the law firm of Cochran, Scheck & Neufeld, charging that they missed a deadline for filing his wrongful-imprisonment claim in state court after his rape conviction had been overturned.
Mr. Long, 46, served six years in state prison after a Queens jury convicted him of raping a woman in her car in Jackson Heights in 1994. Mr. Long, who had consistently maintained his innocence, was walking home eating strawberry ice cream when he was arrested and charged in the attack.

He was freed in June 2000 after an investigation by the Queens Legal Aid Society and the office of District Attorney Richard A. Brown uncovered evidence that showed that he did not commit the crime.

Mr. Long hired Mr. Scheck and Mr. Neufeld, founders of the Innocence Project at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, and the law firm to bring a wrongful-imprisonment lawsuit against New York State. It was filed in 2002.

In his malpractice action, filed in United States District Court in Brooklyn in June 2005 by his new lawyer, Joel Berger, Mr. Long claimed that the lawsuit against the state was filed after the two-year deadline for such claims had passed.

The New York State Court of Claims threw out Mr. Long’s lawsuit in 2003, saying it had been filed improperly and too late. He appealed to the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court, Second Department; it declined to overturn the lower court, but cited other reasons.

The state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, concluded that he had not missed the deadline in the Court of Claims. But it ruled that the case had been improperly filed because Mr. Scheck had sworn to the truth of the lawsuit’s complaint, as opposed to Mr. Long, as is required for such suits filed in the Court of Claims.

The $900,000 settlement was announced in a single-page news release issued jointly by Mr. Berger, the lawyer for Mr. Long; and Ronald C. Minkoff, who represented the Cochran law firm, Mr. Scheck, Mr. Neufeld and Mr. Brustin. The release also said that a civil rights lawsuit Mr. Long filed against New York City had been settled for $50,000.

The news release said both sides had agreed to make no other public statement about the settlement. Neither Mr. Berger nor Mr. Minkoff would comment yesterday.

Mr. Scheck and Mr. Neufeld, who have won praise for their work on behalf of destitute clients, have represented or assisted in the cases of two-thirds of the 187 post-conviction DNA exonerations that have been obtained by the Innocence Project nationwide.

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