A federal appeals court said no last year to absolute immunity. So today lawyers for a D.C. Superior Court official who is being sued for her role in removing a grand juror pushed for dismissal of the suit on the ground that she is protected by qualified immunity.
Administrative official Suzanne Bailey-Jones, who is represented by the D.C. Office of the Attorney General, dismissed a sitting grand juror in April 2001 based on complaints from fellow jurors. The grand juror, Peter Atherton, was allegedly disrupting the voting by repeatedly demanding more information from prosecutors and causing the grand jury to revote on cases. Superior Court rules say only a judge can remove a grand juror.
Atherton’s suit against Bailey-Jones and federal prosecutor Daniel Zachem was filed in 2004 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Atherton has won two appellate victories in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in his quest to hold government officials accountable.
The latest victory in the circuit came last year, when the court said Bailey-Jones and Zachem are not entitled to absolute immunity. This year, Michael Martinez, Zachem’s lawyer at Crowell & Moring, petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to examine the circuit’s ruling, which Martinez called harmful to prosecutors across the country. The high court denied the petition in May.
Bailey-Jones’s city lawyers today renewed their effort to convince a federal judge to drop Atherton’s complaint against her. Civil litigation supervisor William Jaffe, Steven Anderson and John Davie said in a motion to dismiss that Bailey-Jones is entitled to qualified immunity. Click herefor the city’s 19-page motion.
The city lawyers said Atherton (at left) had no right to serve on the grand jury and therefore no protected liberty interest in serving. The only property interest, the city attorneys said, is a juror fee.
They argued that Bailey-Jones is considered part of the “court” and therefore had the power to excuse a juror. The definition of “court,” according to the lawyers, does not exclude Superior Court administrative personnel such as Bailey-Jones.
“No reasonable official would understand that dismissing a disruptive juror violates a right to serve on a grand jury,” Bailey-Jones’s lawyers said in the July 22 court papers. “No case or statute prohibits the dismissal of a juror for being disruptive.”