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CIVIL RIGHTS LAWYER SUES NEWARK FOR POLICE CAR CHASE THAT INJURED INNOCENT THIRD PARTY
Here are excerpts from an appeals court ruling in ongoing lawsuit brought by a civil rights lawyer. Lennox A. Chunkoo hired the civil rights lawyer to sue Newark, its police department, and two of its officers.
Chunkoo’s civil rights lawyer alleged that Chunkoo suffered serious injuries. A vehicle in which Chunkoo was a passenger was struck by another car. A car that was being pursued by Newark police officers. The civil rights lawyer claimed that the officers engaged in an improper and unlawful chase. According to the civil rights lawyer, the chase was even in violation of police policies and procedures. The civil rights lawyer further claimed that the City was responsible for the officers’ actions.
The Newark City attorney’s office asked the judge to dismiss the case without a trial. Among other things, the City attorney claimed that the City (as opposed to the individual officers) was absolutely immune from being sued.
The judge concluded that it was premature to decide whether the case should be dismissed. First, it would have to be decided if there was a conflict of interest in the City attorney representing both the City and the officers. The potential for conflict of interest arose because it was possible that the City attorney might seemingly “favor” the City over the officers. That is, the City attorney might get the case dismissed against the City, and leave the officers on the hook.
A lawyer may not favor one client at another’s expense. If there was in fact a conflict of interest, the officers would need to hire their own attorneys before the dismissal motion was conclusively decided.
The City attorney asserted that any conflict would be avoided by the City’s commitment to pay any damages that Chunkoo might win against the officers. But the judge was not satisfied that the City attorney had the authority to make such a commitment. Only the City Council could authorize that, the judge speculated. The judge thus denied the City’s motion to dismiss the case.
Newark appealed the judge’s ruling. However, the appellate court dismissed the appeal as premature. The trial judge had merely raised the conflict of interest issue. But he hadn’t actually decided it. Newark would need to ask the trial judge to formally rule on whether a conflict of interest existed. After that ruling, Newark could try and appeal again. Appeals court are not inclined to decide cases until the trial judge rules on all pertinent issues.
These technical points demonstrate why it is crucial for victims of improper police action to hire an experienced civil rights lawyer.
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