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Martin A. Schwartz

The recent death of John Thompson served as a cruel reminder that even the most egregious and injurious prosecutorial wrongdoing may not be redressable in an action for damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983. Thompson was the plaintiff in Connick v. Thompson, 131 S.Ct.1350 (2011). He lost his §1983 action in the U.S. Supreme Court, even though he had been on death row for 14 years and the subject of seven death warrants for a murder he did not commit. Prosecutors in the Orleans (Louisiana) District Attorney’s Office had intentionally failed to disclose exculpatory material in violation of Thompson’s due process Brady rights. Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). He had won a §1983 jury verdict of $14 million, $1 million for every year on death row, which was affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, only to have it reversed by a 5-4 ideologically divided Supreme Court. Connick v. Thompson, supra. The Supreme Court decision has been described as “an exceptionally cruel and disingenuous ruling” (Jesse Wegman, “An Innocent Man Who Imagined the World as it Should Be,” N.Y. Times, Oct. 16, 2017, p. A26), “one of the meanest Supreme Court decisions,” “a master class in human apathy”, and “hyper technical and deliberately callous” (Dahlia Lithwick, “Cruel but Not Unusual,” Slate Magazine, April 1, 2011, www.slate.com).

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