In late June, Chadbourne & Parke partner Abbe Lowell's phone rang. On the other end was former New York Governor George Pataki, who asked Lowell to represent him at a civil trial that was set to begin July 8.
Lowell had less than three weeks to prepare.
Pataki, who is counsel to Chadbourne in the firm's New York office, was accused of violating the civil rights of six convicted sex offenders who were sent to psychiatric facilities at the end of their prison sentences. On Wednesday, an eight-person jury cleared Pataki of any wrongdoing.
In the three weeks leading up to the trial, Lowell and a team of attorneys pored through the docket, depositions, exhibits and witnesses before developing a strategy to fend off the accusations.
The six plaintiffs alleged that as they neared the end of their sentences in New York correctional facilities; they were sent to psychiatric hospitals against their will as part of Pataki's Sexually Violent Predator initiative. The initiative, which began in 2005, allowed the state to involuntarily hospitalize sex offenders.
U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff concluded that was a due process violation. The question for the jury, then, was whether or not Pataki and other state officials were liable for damages.
"You create your mini universe and then you have a greater ability to figure out the case," Lowell said in an interview this afternoon. Lowell and his team of attorneys wanted to show that Pataki was acting on the advice of counsel, while maintaining the best intentions. Rakoff, however, deemed that evidence off limits.
Lowell instead zeroed in on the claim that Pataki and others intentionally violated the plaintiffs' civil rights. It was under this work-around that Lowell was able to present evidence that Pataki was acting in good faith on the advice of others, including counsel.
"Everything [Pataki] did, he did because he was advised by counsel," Lowell said. "The challenge was to tell the governor's story minus the most important factor."
Lowell was supported in court by Chadbourne litigation counsel Christopher Man and associate Seth Kruglak. Associates Melissa DePetris, Jill Kahn and Benjamin Bleiberg made contributions outside the courtroom.
The jury’s deliberation in the suit began Monday.