Cuyahoga County (OH) Prosecutor Bill Mason has hired Ned Searby, a former federal prosecutor, to defend the county and county officials in a $42 million dollar wrongful imprisonment lawsuit filed by Joe D’Ambrosio, who spent twenty years on death row before his conviction was overturned in 2006. A federal judge ruled that prosecutors had withheld evidence that might have exonerated him.
As establish in Brady v Maryland, prosecutors are obligated to turn over to the defense any evidence that might support the defendant’s innocence. Failure to do so is a Brady violation and can be reversible error, as it was in this case.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports here that Searby will charge the county no more than $745,000 for the defense legal fees.
D’Ambrosio, freed two years ago, was not acquitted of the murder, and the question of his guilt or innocence will likely be an issue impacting the lawsuit and the amount of any settlement or award.
The article notes that U.S. District Judge Kate O’Maley wrote in 2009, “While there is certainly no clear-cut demonstration of D’Ambrosio’s guilt, the evidence also does not so strongly suggest his innocence that, standing alone, the state of evidence against him would demand an order barring retrial.”
The standard of proof in a civil suit is “preponderance of the evidence.” Lewis Katz, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, said this “means more likely than not.” The tougher standard in criminal cases is “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
D’Ambrosio has filed a separate suit against the state.