The Fifth Circuit once ran from El Paso to Palm Beach Shores. On October 1, 1981, Congress sliced off Alabama, Georgia, and Florida and donated them to the birthling Eleventh Circuit. Fourteen of the 26 judges stayed with the old. The other dozen went with the new. And, as of March 31, 1982, the court ceded power over the Canal Zone.
The court split again this week but this time without losing pieces.
The eight-to-eight en banc vote came in a case that dealt with an Orleans Parish DA's fault for a false guilty verdict. (The 17th member, Judge Dennis, recused himself.) The DA's office hid a blood test that cleared the defendant. A New Orleans civil jury found the DA's office held back bad facts per usual and on purpose. The jurors wrote a $14 million damage award.
A 2-1 panel upheld the judgment against the ex-DA. The tie at the full Fifth Circuit left the judgment standing. Thompson v. Connick, No. 07-30443 (5th Cir. Aug. 10, 2009).
Five judges said of the outcome:
At bottom, the dissent seeks to retry this case through the appellate process. This approach abdicates this court’s duty to uphold a jury’s verdict unless the facts point so strongly in Connick’s favor that no reasonable jury could rule to the contrary. Indeed, the fact that reasonable judges on this court view the evidence differently suggests that these factual disputes were for the jury to resolve. As the extensive discussion in the panel opinion demonstrates, there was ample evidence to allow the citizens of this New Orleans jury to find for Thompson. Of course, this is an extraordinary case with extraordinary facts. Allowing this judgment to stand will not subject municipalities to widespread liability, as a holding that the need for training was “so obvious” and the lack of training “so likely” to create a constitutional violation will apply only in the rare instance. This is that rare case. The jury heard substantial evidence that the District Attorney’s Office provided no Brady specific training, despite the known risk of the exact type of systemic nondisclosure that the failure to train caused here. Acknowledging the proper standard of review and viewing the jury’s verdict in the correct deferential light compels us to uphold the jury’s decision.
Id., slip op. at 40 (emphasis in original and citation omitted).
Blawgletter notes that one of the members of the court, Judge Rhesa Hawkins Barksdale, a West Pointer and native Mississippian, took senior status on August 8. The move leaves an open seat — likely for a fellow son or daughter of the Magnolia State.