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Ex-DA still safe from prosecution by wrongfully charged nurses and lawyer

  • Filipino nurses have been criminally prosecuted for quitting their jobs
  • But immunity from prosecution applies even to an unconstitutional prosecution, 2nd Circuit majority said
  • The dissent said the usual immunity rules did not apply

(Reuters) – A divided federal appeals court has upheld prosecutors’ victory in a civil rights lawsuit brought by 10 Filipino nurses and their attorney, all of whom were wrongfully charged with patient endangerment and conspiracy in 2007 after nurses quit their jobs at Long Island Rehabilitation Center.

By a 2-1 vote, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday said Suffolk County, New York, District Attorney Thomas Spota and the attorneys handling the case had right to absolute immunity for claims “intimately related” to the judicial process. .

However, Circuit Judges Raymond Lohier and Robert Sack acknowledged that Senior Circuit Judge Denny Chin’s dissent “raises strong, if not compelling, political concerns…in favor of significantly curtailing the absolute immunity doctrine. lawsuits”.

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Chin said the usual immunity rules didn’t apply because the lawsuit was unconstitutional: A state appeals court halted it in 2009, finding the charges violated the nurses’ right to be freedom from involuntary servitude and the right to freedom of expression of lawyer Felix Vinluan.

Vinluan’s attorney, Oscar Michelen of Cuomo LLC, plans to seek an en banc review or direct review by the Supreme Court.

“We will continue to seek justice for Mr. Vinluan and an analysis of the adverse effects of blanket absolute immunity for prosecutors,” Michelen said in an email. ‘I think the dissent makes it clear that these facts are outrageous and that the Suffolk DA had no basis under law to charge Mr Vinluan simply for giving legal advice.’

Stephen O’Brien of O’Brien & O’Brien, who represented the county defendants, said Wednesday they were “particularly pleased” that the majority reaffirmed the broad scope of the immunity doctrine.

Juliet Anilao and the other nurses were jointly represented by Druker PC. Their lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

According to the opinion, the nurses were recruited to come to New York by Sentosa Care, but found their salaries and working conditions far worse than advertised. They contacted the Philippine consulate, which referred them to Vinluan. He told them they could quit as long as they didn’t abandon their patients by quitting mid-shift.

All 10 quit after their shifts ended the following day. Sentosa unsuccessfully tried to have them arrested and their nursing licenses revoked, but “eventually found a receptive audience in Spota,” the Majority noted Wednesday.

The lawsuit claimed that Spota was politically motivated to protect Sentosa, a large local employer.

Spota was convicted of obstruction of justice in an unrelated case in 2019 and began serving a five-year sentence last December. His conviction is on appeal.

The case to be heard on Wednesday is Anilao et al. v. Thomas J. Spota III, Individually and as District Attorney for Suffolk County, et al., 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals No. 19-3949.

For Anilao et al. : James Druker and Paula Schwartz Frome of Druker PC

For Felix Vinluan: Oscar Michelen of Cuomo LLC

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