Defendant May Not Sue His Public Defender for Legal Malpractice in a Civil Rights Suit

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Louis Reed (“Reed”), an inmate of the Illinois Department of Corrections, sued state’s attorney Dora Mann (“Mann”), his public defender Judy Steele (“Steele”), Susan and Don Wall (the “Walls”), and Judge Ronald Slemer (“Judge Slemer”) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged deprivation of his constitutional rights during his sentencing hearing.  Reed asserted that the Walls wrote a letter containing false statements to Judge Slemer, who presided over the hearing.  Mann allegedly placed the letter into Reed’s file as a victim impact statement despite knowing the Walls were not victims, and Steele permitted this without alerting Reed until five minutes before his hearing.  Judge Slemer then allowed the letter to be read at the hearing. Reed asserts this caused him to be sentenced more severely, and sought monetary damages.

The United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois dismissed with prejudice, explaining that “none of these individuals […] can be sued for damages pursuant to Section 1983.”   Id. at 1.   With respect to Steele, the court explained that “the law is clear that a party may not sue his attorney for legal malpractice in a civil rights suit, and this principle holds true even if that attorney was court-appointed and employed by the state.”  Id.   As for Judge Slemer and Mann, the court stated that judges are protected by absolute judicial immunity when being sued solely for a judicial act and that a prosecutor is immune from a civil suit for damages under Section 1983 for simply initiating prosecution and presenting the State’s case.  The Walls were likewise improper defendants because Reed did not indicate that they were acting under the color of law when they wrote their letter.  Even if that could be proven, any alleged slander or defamation “are not actionable under Section 1983.”  Id.

Reed v. Wall, No. 19-cv-01190-NJR, 2020 WL 2129962 (S.D. Ill. May 5, 2020).

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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