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Brooklyn Criminal Bar Association CLE helps lawyers preserve civil suits for clients

April 2, 2019 Rob Abruzzese
The Kings County Criminal Bar Association hosted a pair of former Legal Aid attorneys for a CLE seminar on "Civil Rights for the Criminal Practitioner" during its monthly meeting. Pictured from left: KCCBA President Christopher Wright, and attorneys Julia P. Kuan and Earl S. Ward. Eagle photo by Rob Abruzzese
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After 30 years of practicing law, Earl Ward is considered one of the top criminal defense and civil rights attorneys in New York City. However, during a recent meeting of the Kings County Criminal Bar Association, Ward discussed a case he mishandled early on in his career as a warning to others.

“One of the first cases I ever tried was a case where a person was charged with assaulting a police officer,” said Ward, who is now a partner at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff and Abady. “We went to trial and fortunately he was acquitted. About two weeks after the trial I get a call from the client. I’m thinking they’re coming by to say thank you. But when they walked into the office, they said, ‘You blew it. You blew my civil claims.’”

Ward had properly handled the criminal side of the case but had failed to file a notice of claim so the client could not bring a civil case as the statute of limitations had passed.

Christopher Wright took over as president of the KCCBA earlier this year. Eagle photo by Rob Abruzzese
Christopher Wright took over as president of the KCCBA earlier this year. Eagle photo by Rob Abruzzese

“I had no idea,” Ward said. “I had been practicing law for a year and I had no idea about the notice of claim that was associated with his arrest. As a result, I’ve been interested in the idea that we should be looking at the types of dispositions of civil cases and how we can best help our clients to protect and preserve their civil claims.”

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Ward was one of two guest speakers at the KCCBA’s monthly meeting for a discussion on “Civil Rights Law for the Criminal Practitioner,” a two-hour continuing legal education (CLE) seminar designed to help attorneys avoid his past mistake and many others. The other speaker was Julia P. Kuan, partner at Romano & Kuan.

“I cannot imagine two areas of law that intersect so smoothly and naturally, criminal defense and civil rights law,” said KCCBA President Christopher Wright, who noted that Ward’s firm, Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, “has handled a lot of important cases.” Wright also told his listeners that Kwan, a former Bronx Defenders attorney, “has handled a lot of big civil rights cases.

From left: Stuart Birbach, Michael Farkas and James Koenig. Eagle photo by Rob Abruzzese
From left: Stuart Birbach, Michael Farkas and James Koenig. Eagle photo by Rob Abruzzese

“They’re both former Legal Aid attorneys who have represented all kinds of people in all kinds of civil rights matters from anti-war protesters to folks who have been assaulted and beaten by the police, you name it,” Wright said.

One important point brought up during the discussion was getting a favorable termination of a case. An example mentioned was an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal (known as an ACD), in which prosecutors agree to drop a case for good behavior. Clients will often take these types of pleas; however, Kuan cautioned against doing so in all cases as it blocks certain civil suits from going forward.

“Under both federal and state law, a malicious prosecution claim, which is a Fourth Amendment claim, you have to prove that the case was favorably terminated,” Kuan said. “The case law is very clear that an ACD is not considered a favorable termination.”

The KCCBA will meet again on April 13 for its annual dinner dance at which it will honor Justice Joseph Gubbay and three others. Tickets for that event are sold out.

Hon. Barry Kamins will host a CLE seminar on search and seizure at the next KCCBA monthly meeting on May 30.

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