Joel Rudin, left, and his client Jabbar Collins. Collins was incarcerated for 16 years before his murder conviction was vacated. (NYLJ/Rick Kopstein)
Jabbar Collins, a wrongfully convicted man who pressed arguments of systemic police and prosecutorial misconduct in Brooklyn, has settled his civil rights suit against New York City for $10 million.
With a trial two months away, the parties agreed to settle the case Monday afternoon after Collins’ attorney, Joel Rudin, met with Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter and other city attorneys.
On Tuesday, the parties filed a stipulation of dismissal in the Eastern District case, Collins v. City of New York, 11-cv-766, before Judge Frederic Block, who urged a settlement to avert a trial set for Oct. 20.
In all, Collins will receive a total of $13 million after settling a separate unjust conviction and imprisonment suit against New York State for $3 million last month.
Collins, 42, was incarcerated for 16 years on a murder conviction that was vacated in 2010. At the time, Eastern District Judge Dora Irizarry granted Collins’ habeas petition, blocked a retrial and excoriated Brooklyn prosecutors for their handling of the case.
In his lawsuit against the city, Collins argued that then-Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes was deliberately indifferent to prosecutorial misconduct that caused his 1995 conviction for the killing of a rabbi, such as the withholding of material exculpatory evidence.
In a statement, Collins said he had several goals in bringing his suit. One was “to obtain personal vindication and to demonstrate my innocence.” Another aim was to “expose” the practices of Brooklyn prosecutors under Hynes and “help drive him from office.” A third goal, Collins said, was to “receive compensation that would recognize the enormity of the harm that was done to me and my family and would provide financial security for the rest of my life. I accepted the city’s offer because I achieved all of my goals.”
Collins, who works as a paralegal in Rudin’s law office, said he plans to enter the ministry and continue to work on wrongful convictions.
The case garnered media attention and became a repeated talking point for Kenneth Thompson as he ran against Hynes, a 24-year incumbent, in elections last fall.
Last month, Thompson told the Daily News editorial board that he believed Collins was innocent.
For the city, the pact marks the latest in a string of high-profile cases that the administration of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg had fought zealously before the cases were reconciled under the current administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio.
In June, the city settled a long-running suit brought by the five defendants in the Central Park Jogger case for $40 million, and it has moved to withdraw an appeal of stop-and-frisk litigation.
In a statement, a Law Department spokeswoman said “the [Brooklyn] District Attorney’s Office previously conceded that exculpatory evidence was withheld from Mr. Collins when he went to trial back in 1995. Therefore, his conviction and sentencing on murder charges resulted from violations of his constitutional rights. After evaluating the claims and Mr. Collin’s specific case circumstances, we believe this settlement is fair and is in New York City’s best interests.”
‘Less Strident’ Tone
In an interview, Rudin said after de Blasio took office and appointed Carter as the city’s top attorney, the tone became “much less strident.”
“They stopped making noises about trying to prove Jabbar guilty. They just became much quieter in tone and more conciliatory,” Rudin said.
He also credited Eastern District Magistrate Judge Robert Levy for his efforts in helping to broker the settlement.
The settlement includes attorney fees, but Rudin said the amount owed to him was a matter between him and Collins.
The settlement comes at a moment when Brooklyn prosecutors are reviewing about 100 wrongful conviction claims from cases mostly from the 1980s and 1990s. Eight convictions have been vacated and a number of the defendants say they plan to sue the city.
Rudin said a concern for the city during settlement talks was determining an amount that, combined with the Central Park Five case, would not establish precedents justifying costly settlements in other likely cases.
But Rudin said Collins’ case was “unique” for its “pervasive misconduct.”
The underlying criminal case arose from the robbery and fatal shooting of Rabbi Abraham Pollack. Collins maintained his innocence, but was convicted in 1995 and received a 34 2/3-year to life sentence.
In his lawsuit, Collins alleged trial prosecutor Michael Vecchione fabricated evidence and did not reveal a recantation from a witness who then retracted the recantation. Vecchione became chief of the rackets division under Hynes.
During the 2010 habeas proceedings, Brooklyn prosecutors conceded the Brady violation regarding the recantation, but said it was unintentional and that Vecchione had no knowledge of the brief recantation.
Hynes defended Vecchione’s handling of the case, saying he was a “very, very principled lawyer” (NYLJ, June 10, 2010).
Collins filed his state and federal cases in 2011.
Vecchione, now a solo practitioner in Queens, declined in an interview to comment on the city’s settlement. He was initially named as a defendant, but Block let him out of the suit in 2013, saying he was shielded by absolute prosecutorial immunity (NYLJ, Feb. 19, 2013).
“I maintain I never did anything wrong, right as I sit here now. I operated in the bounds of the law and never violated ethics,” Vecchione said Tuesday.
In the wake of the settlement, Hynes also released a statement defending the manner in which his office handled the habeas matter. Hynes said he only learned of the non-disclosed recantation during the 2010 proceedings and immediately directed the office to withdraw opposition.
Leading up to Tuesday’s settlement, Collins deposed top-level staffers in the Hynes administration, including Vecchione and Hynes himself.
While being deposed, Hynes said as the habeas proceeding unfolded, he concluded the case had “fallen apart. ” He disavowed a January 2013 New York Times column that quoted him as saying “ we believe [Collins] did it,” saying he was misquoted (NYLJ, April 16).
“One of the most disgraceful parts of the case was the continual smearing of a wrongfully convicted man,” Rudin said Tuesday.
Collins was also represented by Thomas Viles, of counsel at Law Offices of Joel B. Rudin, and Terri Rosenblatt, who worked at Rudin’s firm as an associate before joining The Bronx Defenders.
The city was represented by Assistant Corporation Counsels Arthur Larkin and Elizabeth Krasnow.