October 22, 2010
Suing a D.A. for inadequately training employees
Gordon Cooney, a 1984 graduate of Villanova Law School and Managing Partner of the Philadelphia office of Morgan Lewis & Bockius, argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on October 6, continuing his 22 year representation of John Thompson. In 1985, Thompson, a 22-year-old New Orleans resident, was arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of a wealthy white hotel executive. Cooney and his Morgan Lewis partner Michael Banks, took the case pro bono, and handled it through a series of appeals. When what appeared to be the final appeal was denied, Cooney and Banks began to prepare Thompson for his impending execution. Just weeks before Thompson’s execution was scheduled to occur, Cooney and Banks uncovered exculpatory evidence that had been intentionally suppressed by the prosecution. This resulted in another appeal in which Thompson’s conviction was overturned. He was retried, with Cooney and Banks as trial counsel, and Thompson was acquitted. In 2005, the lawyers helped Thompson file a civil suit against the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office, led at the time by Harry Connick, Sr. , and against prosecutors in their official and personal capacities, seeking compensation for Thompson’s unjust incarceration. Two years later, a jury found that Connick had engaged in a pattern and practice of failing to properly train his prosecutors about their obligations to provide defense attorneys with exculpatory evidence, as required the Supreme Court’s Brady decision, and that Thompson’s imprisonment was a direct result of those actions. Thompson won a $14 million verdict. The DA’s office appealed and Thompson prevailed in the 5th Circuit. The Supreme Court granted cert on the question of whether the usual rule of immunity that would protect a state prosecutor’s office from liability for the actions of its employees does not apply because the prosecutors acted illegally as a result of the office failure to train adequately its employees.