Federal Judge’s Ruling Limits Damages Lawyer Can Seek
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ Some state and county officials named as defendants in a $30 million civil rights lawsuit are protected for some wrongs a black lawyer contends they committed against him, a federal judge has ruled.
Attorney Roy C. ″Bill″ Lewellen is seeking $30 million in damages and a court order preventing his prosecution on charges of witness bribery and conspiracy filed by Prosecutor Gene Raff and his deputy, David Cahoon.
Lewellen said he was charged because he is black, because he sought to unseat a longtime state senator this year and because he refused to accept a plea bargain for his client in a rape case last year.
U.S. District Judge George Howard Jr. said Monday some of the officials are protected by the doctrine of governmental immunity.
Besides Raff and Cahoon, the civil rights suit names four Lee County officials and others.
Lewellen said they conspired to deprive him of his civil rights by filing criminal charges without cause, by illegal electronic surveillance, by releasing untrue and defamatory statements to the news media and in other ways.
Howard ruled Monday that Raff and Cahoon could not be sued for defamation and had qualified immunity on the electronic surveillance allegations.
The judge said Lee County could not be sued for punitive damages but refused to dismiss other claims by Lewellen, who said the county maintained a policy and practice of discriminating against blacks.
Howard dismissed claims against the county and the four officials under a federal law controlling the interception of communications but refused to dismiss claims against two women involved in the witness bribery case under a similar state law.
Howard ruled Dec. 8 that the county officials had brought the charges in bad faith. He blocked the prosecution of Lewellen until Lewellen’s civil rights suit can be decided in court. During the hearing there was testimony that Raff controlled the judiciary in Lee County and manipulated it to retaliate against Lewellen.
Lewellen was charged with trying to bribe the mother of an alleged rape victim in an attempt to have rape charges dismissed against a minister whom Lewellen represented.