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Barry C. Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, and his firm, Cochran, Neufeld & Scheck, have agreed to pay $900,000 to settle a malpractice claim by a man wrongfully convicted of rape. The settlement ended acrimonious litigation that began in June 2005. Scheck’s former client, Lee Long, 46, alleged that Scheck missed a deadline in a lawsuit against the state seeking damages for wrongful conviction. Long’s malpractice claim sought $3 million in compensatory and punitive damages, plus treble damages and attorney fees. Earlier this year, the state Court of Appeals ruled that Scheck filed the complaint on time, but dismissed it because Long, now a resident of Alabama, did not personally verify the complaint. Instead, Scheck verified it on Long’s behalf. Since the Court of Appeals ruling, the parties have engaged in talks under the supervision of Eastern District of New York Magistrate Judge Steven M. Gold. Monday’s settlement, announced in a press release, not only put an end to the malpractice suit, but to public allegations. Both sides agreed they would not speak about the case. The press release made no mention of additional attorney fees beyond the $900,000 settlement. Long will also receive $50,000 from New York City to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit. Scheck filed the lawsuit on Long’s behalf, but the suit was subsequently taken over by Joel Berger, who represented Long on the malpractice case. Long was convicted of a 1994 rape in Jackson Heights based on the victim’s identification. However, a subsequent investigation by the Legal Aid Society and the Queens district attorney’s office revealed that a police officer had withheld evidence that corroborated Long’s alibi. In June 2000, Justice Joseph G. Golia vacated Long’s conviction “in the interest of justice.” Scheck and Nick Brustin, another attorney at the firm, were hired to handle his civil suit. They filed a complaint two years to the day of Golia’s written ruling, seemingly right at the statutory deadline. The Court of Claims disagreed, though, saying that Golia had made an oral ruling three days earlier. It found that the claim was time-barred, and also ruled that Scheck’s verification was deficient. The Appellate Division, 2nd Department affirmed that ruling but a for different reason. The court said Long could not sue the state because his conviction had been dismissed in the interest of justice, rather than on the basis of newly discovered evidence. The court said it did not matter that Golia had later amended his ruling to cite newly discovered evidence, since he still concluded that the interest of justice standard applied. In its ruling this July, the Court of Appeals stated that a claim like Long’s could stand as long as a conviction was vacated under one of the grounds in Court of Claims Act �8-b(3)(b)(ii). However, it said the verification error was fatal to the claim. Scheck and his firm were represented by Ronald C. Minkoff of Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz.

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