A Manhattan prosecutor who allegedly orchestrated the arrest of a prominent attorney on extortion-related charges is potentially liable for false arrest damages under recommendations submitted yesterday by a federal magistrate judge.
Southern District Magistrate Judge James Francis IV (See Profile) found that while nearly all of the claims asserted by attorney Stuart Jackson, a former Rogers & Wells partner and ex-advisor to the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, are barred because the defendant prosecutors have immunity, one claim against Assistant District Attorney Andrew Seewald and senior investigator Michael Wigdor may proceed.
Jackson’s federal civil rights claim, Jackson v. Seewald, 11-c-v-5826, arose after he was acquitted two years ago of charges that he aided a client attempting to extort $11 million from the client’s son-in-law.
The client, attorney Stuart Ross, the so-called Papa Smurf who brought the blue cartoon character to the United States in the 1980s, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation and disbarred.
Records show that Ross was estranged from his daughter, Allison Blitzer, but maintained contact with his son-in-law, David Blitzer, a senior executive with the Blackstone Group. According to Francis’ report to Southern District Judge Lewis Kaplan (See Profile), Jackson met with Blitzer in 2008 at Ross’ request, and relayed that his client was willing to give up any right to petition for visitation with his grandchildren.
Shortly thereafter, Blitzer’s attorney, Roger Stavis of Gallet Dreyer & Berkey, contacted Jackson to see what Ross wanted in exchange for waiving any visitation rights.
Jackson, according to the report, said Ross wanted $5.5 million and, in addition to giving up his visitation rights, would also promise to stop calling Blitzer at Blackstone. Stavis reduced it to writing, but then Ross insisted on $5.5 million for giving up his rights and another $5.5 million to stop calling Blitzer or anyone else at Blackstone, records show.
Stavis contacted the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, providing prosecutors with allegedly threatening voicemails that Ross had left for Blitzer. That led to an investigation and the arrest of Ross and Jackson. Jackson was charged with third-degree grand larceny and attempted second-degree grand larceny. He was acquitted of all charges at trial and promptly brought a civil rights action.
In his report, Francis noted that the defendants, including several officials at the district attorney’s office, are absolutely immune for any action undertaken in their capacity as advocates or officers of the court, but not when acting outside that role as an investigator. Here, Jackson alleges that before his arrest, the defendants performed as investigators, meeting with potential witnesses to plan a course of action and essentially setting up a sting.
Francis said the allegations in the complaint—that the district attorney defendants “set up” Jackson, recorded a phone conversation between Stavis and Jackson and coached Stavis and Blitzer on how to conduct themselves at a secretly recorded meeting with Jackson and Ross—describe “investigative acts that would normally be performed by the police and for which the D.A. defendants are not entitled” to absolute immunity.
He said there is insufficient information yet in the record to explain “the events leading up to” Jackson’s arrest and “whether the DA defendants are entitled to qualified immunity.”
Amy Beth Marion of Barket, Marion, Epstein & Kearon in Garden City, representing Jackson, said the recommendation is “quite significant for my client and means that he still has a case to fight to seek recovery for the injustice that occurred to him.”
Seewald and Wigdor are represented by Cynthia Marie Sittnick.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s office declined comment.
Jackson’s complaint describes him as a “respected attorney with an unblemished record” who was “falsely arrested and maliciously prosecuted for more than two years.”
The complaint describes Jackson, now 83, as a retired military officer who served during World War II and the Korean conflict, eventually became a Rogers & Wells partner and was later an advisor to CIA Director William Casey and chairman of Israel’s International Red Cross Committee.
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