Case over Iowa prosecutors’ conduct is settled

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WASHINGTON (AP) — A multimillion-dollar settlement on Monday ended the Supreme Court’s consideration of a case that could have changed the legal protections that criminal prosecutors get as they do their jobs.

The high court agreed to dismiss the case after Terry Harrington and Curtis W. McGhee Jr. agreed to a $12 million settlement with Pottawattamie County, Iowa, and two of its former prosecutors.

“Terry Harrington deserves this after his unwavering patience and perseverance as to his innocence,” his lawyer Doug McCalla said in a statement.

Justices in November heard arguments over whether the two men’s lawsuit against the county and its former prosecutors, Dave Richter and his assistant Joseph Hrvol, should be thrown out.

McGhee and Harrington were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in 1978 for the death of retired police officer John Schweer. The men were released from prison after 25 years.

McGhee and Harrington sued, saying that as prosecutors Richter and Hrvol had them arrested without probable cause, coerced and coached witnesses, fabricated evidence against them and concealed evidence that could have cleared them. They claimed authorities were eager to charge someone and that they were targeted because they are black.

Richter and Hrvol argued, however, that they were immune from lawsuits because they were acting within the scope of their job. Ordinarily, prosecutors are immune from lawsuits based on their work at trial.

The high court was to decide whether that immunity stretched to the prosecutorial work that happens before the trial begins. Lower courts had said that it did not and had rejected the prosecutors’ request to dismiss the lawsuits.

The two men still have a lawsuit pending against the police officers and the city of Council Bluffs, Iowa.

The case was Pottawattamie County v. McGhee, 08-1065.