526 U.S. 286 (1999), 97-1802, Conn v. Gabbert

Docket Nº:Case No. 97-1802
Citation:526 U.S. 286, 119 S.Ct. 1292, 143 L.Ed.2d 399, 67 U.S.L.W. 4222
Party Name:CONN et al. v. GABBERT
Case Date:April 05, 1999
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 286

526 U.S. 286 (1999)

119 S.Ct. 1292, 143 L.Ed.2d 399, 67 U.S.L.W. 4222

CONN et al.

v.

GABBERT

Case No. 97-1802

United States Supreme Court

April 5, 1999

Argued February 23, 1999

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioners Conn and Najera, prosecutors in the "Menendez Brothers" case on retrial, learned that Lyle Menendez had written a letter to Traci Baker, in which he may have instructed her to testify falsely at the first trial. Baker was subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury and to produce any correspondence that she had received from Menendez. She later responded that she had given Menendez's letters to her attorney, respondent Gabbert. When Baker appeared to testify before the grand jury, accompanied by Gabbert, Conn directed police to secure a warrant to search Gabbert for the letter. At the same time that Gabbert was being searched, Najera called Baker before the grand jury for questioning. Gabbert brought suit against the prosecutors under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, contending, inter alia, that his Fourteenth Amendment right to practice his profession without unreasonable government interference was violated when the prosecutors executed a search warrant at the same time his client was testifying before the grand jury. The Federal District Court granted petitioners summary judgment, but the Ninth Circuit reversed in part, holding that Gabbert had a right to practice his profession without undue and unreasonable government interference, and that because the right was clearly established, petitioners were not entitled to qualified immunity.

Held:

A prosecutor does not violate an attorney's Fourteenth Amendment right to practice his profession by executing a search warrant while the attorney's client is testifying before a grand jury. To prevail in a § 1983 action for civil damages from a government official performing discretionary functions, the qualified immunity defense requires that the official be shown to have violated clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known. Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818. There is no support in this Court's cases for the Ninth Circuit's conclusion that the prosecutors' actions in this case deprived Gabbert of a liberty interest in practicing law. See Board of Regents of State Colleges v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 578; Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 399. The cases relied upon by the Ninth Circuit or suggested by Gabbert all deal with a complete prohibition of the right to engage in a calling, and not the sort of brief interruption as a result of legal process which occurred here. See, e. g., Dent v. West

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Virginia, 129 U.S. 114. Gabbert's argument that the search's improper timing interfered with his client's right to have him outside the grand jury room and available to consult with her is unavailing, since a grand jury witness has no constitutional right to have counsel present during the proceeding, and none of this Court's decisions has held that such a witness has a right to have her attorney present outside the jury room. This Court need not decide whether such a right exists, because Gabbert had no standing to raise the alleged infringement of his client's rights. Although he does have standing to complain of the allegedly unreasonable timing of the search warrant's execution to prevent him from advising his client, challenges to the reasonableness of the execution of a search warrant must be assessed under the Fourth Amendment, not the Fourteenth, see Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395. Pp. 290-293.

131 F.3d 793, reversed.

Rehnquist, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, Ginsburg, and Breyer, JJ., joined. Stevens, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 293.

Kevin C. Brazile argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the briefs were Lloyd W. Pellman, Donovan Main, and Louis V. Aguilar.

Michael J. Lightfoot argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Stephen B. Sadowsky and Melissa N. Widdifield.[*]

Chief Justice Rehnquist delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari in this case, 525 U.S. 809 (1998), to decide whether a prosecutor violates an attorney's Fourteenth Amendment right to practice his profession when the prosecutor causes the attorney to be searched at the same time his client is testifying before a grand jury. We conclude

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that such conduct by a prosecutor does not violate an attorney's Fourteenth Amendment right to practice his profession.

This case arises out of the high-profile California trials of the "Menendez Brothers," Lyle and Erik Menendez, for the murder of their parents. Petitioners David Conn and Carol Najera are Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorneys, and respondent Paul Gabbert is a criminal defense attorney. In early 1994, after the first Menendez trial ended in a hung jury, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office assigned Conn and Najera to prosecute the case on retrial. Conn and Najera learned that Lyle Menendez had written a letter to Traci Baker, his former girlfriend, in which he may have instructed her to testify falsely at trial. Gabbert represented Baker, who had testified as a defense witness in the first trial. Conn obtained and served Baker with a subpoena directing her to testify before the Los Angeles County grand jury and also directing her to produce at that time any correspondence that she had received from Lyle Menendez. After Gabbert unsuccessfully sought to quash the portion of the subpoena directing Baker to produce the Menendez correspondence, Conn and Najera obtained a warrant to search Baker's apartment for any such correspondence. When police tried to execute the warrant, Baker told the police that she had given all her letters from Menendez to Gabbert.

Three days later, on March 21, 1994, Baker appeared as directed before the grand jury, accompanied by Gabbert. Believing that Gabbert might have the letter on his person, Conn directed a police detective to secure a warrant to search Gabbert. California law provides that a warrant to search an attorney must be executed by a court-appointed special master. When the Special Master arrived, Gabbert requested that the search take place in a private room. He did not request that his client's grand jury testimony be postponed. The Special Master searched Gabbert in the private

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room, and Gabbert produced two pages of a three-page letter from Lyle Menendez to Baker.

At approximately the same time that the search of Gabbert was taking place, Najera called Baker before the grand jury and began to question her. After being sworn, Najera asked Baker whether she was acquainted with Lyle Menendez. Baker replied that she had been unable to speak with her attorney because he was "still with the special master." Brief...

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