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Supreme Court of Connecticut
January 10, 1975, Argued ; June 10, 1975, Decided
No Number in Original
[*564] [**873] The defendant is an attorney at law. The plaintiff, his client, whom he represented in a Circuit Court criminal proceeding, brought this action for malpractice, alleging in her complaint that the defendant was negligent in disclosing to the court his belief that the plaintiff was insane. It is further alleged that the court thereupon set bail and ordered the plaintiff placed in a mental institution and that the defendant negligently failed to advise the plaintiff of bail procedures [***2] whereby her release could be secured. For these alleged actions and their alleged consequences, the plaintiff sought damages. At the time the present action was commenced and at the time of the occurrences pleaded in the complaint, the defendant was a public defender in the Circuit Court and had been appointed to defend the plaintiff. The attorney general entered a special appearance in behalf of the defendant and filed a plea in abatement alleging immunity from suit. The plea was sustained, and the court dismissed the action. The plaintiff has appealed from that judgment.
The issue to be decided on this appeal, whether an attorney occupying the position of public defender and assigned to represent an indigent defendant enjoys immunity from liability for professional malpractice, is one of first impression. Three grounds have been advanced by the state for the public defender's immunity: judicial immunity, [*565] common-law sovereign immunity which extends to public officials, and the statutory immunity of public officers and state employees.
The state argues that the doctrine of judicial immunity, long recognized in this state; Phelps v. Sill, 1 Day 315, 329; [***3] should be extended to public defenders on the ground that the policy supporting immunity [**874] for judges and officers exercising a judicial function is applicable to the public defender. It is pointed out that the immunity rule is designed to promote "principled and fearless decision-making" by removing a judge's "fear that unsatisfied litigants may hound him with litigation charging malice or corruption"; Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 554, 87 S. Ct. 1213, 18 L. Ed. 2d 288; and that this policy has been applied in extending immunity to a prosecuting attorney; Fanale v. Sheehy, 385 F.2d 866, 868 (2d Cir.); for acts done in "his official capacity" on grounds that "his office is vested with a vast quantum of discretion which is necessary for the vindication of the public interest. In this respect, it is imperative that he enjoy the same freedom and independence of action as that which is accorded members of the bench." Bauers v. Heisel, 361 F.2d 581, 589-90 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 386 U.S. 1021, 87 S. Ct. 1367, 18 L. Ed. 2d 457. "The key to the immunity . . . held to be protective to the prosecuting attorney is that the acts, alleged to have been wrongful, [***4] were committed by the officer in the performance of an integral part of the judicial process." Robichaud v. Ronan, 351 F.2d 533, 536 (9th Cir.); see also Hilliard v. Williams, 465 F.2d 1212, 1217 (6th Cir.) and cases cited therein on the qualified nature of a prosecuting attorney's immunity from liability. The state's argument is [*566] that a public defender is appointed by the judiciary 1 to a judicial office and that in performing his functions he is, as is a state's attorney or prosecutor, "in the performance of an integral part of the judicial process."
[***5] This argument sweeps too broadly for it encompasses any privately retained attorney who is representing a criminal defendant. In this state, attorneys admitted to practice are all officers of the court; Heiberger v. Clark, 148 Conn. 177, 186, 169 A.2d 652; they are all, when they undertake a criminal case, "in the performance of an integral part of the judicial process" -- the defense of the accused and the protection of the innocent. But they are in no sense judicial officers. Yudkin v. Gates, 60 Conn. 426, 429, 22 A. 776.
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168 Conn. 563 *; 362 A.2d 871 **; 1975 Conn. LEXIS 986 ***
Mary Spring v. Peter L. Constantino
Prior History: [***1] Action for malpractice, brought to the Court of Common Pleas for the judicial district of Waterbury, where the court, Casale, J., sustained a plea in abatement and rendered judgment dismissing the action, from which the plaintiff appealed to this court.
Disposition: Error; further proceedings.
public defender, immunity, employees, private person, independent contractor, sovereign immunity, public official, state official, sovereign
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