Updated at 4:53 p.m.
A Washington federal judge yesterday upheld a $2.3 million verdict for Charles Singletary, who spent 10 years in jail after his parole was wrongly revoked.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson had harsh words for the District of Columbia's lawyers, who argued that the verdict was too high. She wrote in her opinion (PDF) that there was no evidence that the verdict "was the product of prejudice or passion," and that "the only thing that did shock the conscience" is that the city argued Singletary wasn't entitled to damages because he had served jail time for other crimes in the past.
"Apparently, according to the District's lawyers, someone with Mr. Singletary's background has no humanity, no entitlement to liberty, and did not suffer any harm, either when he was incarcerated without due process of law, or when he remained wrongly incarcerated for the next ten years," Jackson said. (emphasis in the original)
A lead attorney for Singletary, Washington solo practitioner Stephen Leckar, said in an e-mail that "[w]e are gratified that the trial judge's meticulous decision issued today upheld the jury verdict." Singletary was also represented by solo practitioners Edward Sussman and Steven Kiersh, and Neal Goldfarb of Butzel Long Tighe Patton.
"The government's underlying conduct, not just in unconstitutionally depriving a citizen of his liberty for ten years, but in then waging war on his character as he sought recompense for the injury it caused him, is little short of lamentable," Leckar said.
Ted Gest, a spokesman for the city's Office of the Attorney General, said the city planned to appeal Jackson's decision.
Singletary was released on parole in 1990 after serving seven years in jail for an armed robbery conviction. In 1995, he was arrested in connection with the murder of Leroy Hautman, but the charges were dropped and he was never indicted by a grand jury. However, in July 1996 the D.C. Board of Parole held a hearing to decide whether to revoke his parole and heard evidence linking Singletary to the murder. The board revoked his parole and sent him back to jail for another 10 years.
In jail, Singletary claimed he was subjected to harsh conditions and went blind from untreated glaucoma. He began challenging his parole revocation in 1997, first in District of Columbia Superior Court. The challenge was denied, and that ruling was upheld by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. In 2000, he unsuccessfully petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reversed the trial court's denial of Singletary's petition in July 2006. The judges found that the parole board had wrongfully sent Singletary back to jail based on unreliable hearsay testimony and an overall "shoddy" record. By 2006, the D.C. Board of Parole no longer existed. Its duties were transferred to the U.S. Parole Commission, which held a new parole-revocation hearing and released Singletary in November 2006. He sued the city in April 2009.
In August 2011, Jackson found the city liable for the unconstitutional revocation of Singletary's parole. Following a jury trial on damages, a jury awarded Singletary $2.3 million in December. In January, the city moved for a new trial or for remittitur. The city, in its motion, argued was that the verdict was "excessive, not supported by trial evidence, and otherwise shocks the conscience."
Jackson wrote that the jury had the "unenviable task" of putting a dollar amount on a year of life, something that wasn't "easily quantifiable." She said she was reminded of the song "Seasons of Love" from the 1996 musical Rent, which listed some of the intangibles that could go into such a calculation: "In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee. In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife."
Jackson found that the jury concluded that Singletary was owed $230,000 "for each year that he was stripped of the privileges of individual choice and physical freedom and subjected to the indignity of incarceration, and there is nothing about that calculation that needs to be reduced."
She rejected the city's claims that she improperly excluded evidence from trial tying Hautman's murder to Singletary and about Singletary's other periods of incarceration before 1996, and that she improperly allowed Singletary to testify about his experience in jail from 1996 to 2006.
"Since the properly instructed jury’s verdict does not shock the conscience, and since defendant has failed to identify a substantial error that would support the grant of a new trial…the motion will be denied," she said.