New York Court Limits Damages Against Defense Lawyers

June 1, 2012

New York’s top court has rejected some malpractice damage claims against defense lawyers by the people they represent unsuccessfully, concluding that allowing them could have “devastating consequences” for the criminal justice system.

The Court of Appeals unanimously says allowing damages for lost liberty and emotional distress would have “a chilling effect” on an already strapped defense bar in representing poor defendants and give them an incentive to not help with appeals.

The case stems from Thomas Dombrowski’s attempted rape conviction in Allegany County. He spent five years in jail. A federal judge vacated his conviction, ruling that errors by defense lawyer Raymond Bulson made it hard for the jury to assess the accuser’s credibility.

Dombrowksi sued Bulson.

The court says defendants can still sue for monetary damages like lost wages.

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