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A Job Well Done

by | May 12, 2021 | Firm News

Marsh, Rickard & Bryan attorney Richard Riley has been recognized nationally for his skills as an appellate attorney.  The Pound Civil Justice Institute has chosen Richard to receive the 2021 Appellate Advocacy Award for his work on a particularly challenging civil rights case involving a police shooting.

The Pound Civil Justice Institute is a national legal think tank created by pioneering members of the trial bar and dedicated to ensuring access to justice for ordinary citizens. The Appellate Advocacy Award, awarded annually, recognizes excellence in appellate advocacy in America. It is given to attorneys who have been instrumental in securing a final appellate court decision with significant impact on the right to trial by jury, public health and safety, consumer rights, civil rights, environmental justice, access to justice in civil cases, or other issues relevant to the work of the Pound Institute.

Aubrey Williams and a friend were stopped by two City of Birmingham police officers who were investigating a nearby bank robbery. Both were carrying concealed handguns for safety. Williams dropped to all fours and repeatedly told the officers he had a gun beneath him. Regardless, one officer shot Williams twice after he pushed him over and saw the gun The police charged him with attempted murder, claiming that he had pointed his gun at them. (Their squad car “dashcam” video showed that he did not.) Williams spent two months in the hospital recovering from his wounds and served 16 months in pretrial jail detention before the prosecutor dismissed the charges against him for want of evidence.

Williams brought an action against the two police officers under § 1983 and state law, alleging that he was maliciously prosecuted on the charges of attempted murder. The officers moved for summary judgment, claiming qualified immunity and state-agent immunity. The district court denied the officers’ motion. On their appeal, the Eleventh Circuit, in Williams v. Aguirre, 965 F.3d 1147 (11th Cir. 2020), held that fact issues precluded summary judgment on both the § 1983 malicious prosecution claim and the officers’ claim of state-agent immunity. Chief Judge William Pryor noted in his opinion that the dashcam video was consistent with Williams’ account of the events, and “support[ed] an inference that someone is lying.” Importantly, the court rejected the officers’ contention that the “any crime” rule (which insulates officers with immunity on false-arrest claims if there was probable cause to arrest the suspect for some crime, even if it was not the crime the officer thought had occurred) merely because Williams did not have a gun permit. The court held that the “any crime” rule does not apply to § 1983 malicious prosecution claims. That holding resolved a conflict in circuit precedent and clarified the issue for any future litigants. The lawsuit was later settled.

While Richard handled Mr. Williams’ appeal, Marsh Rickard & Bryan attorneys  David Marsh and Rip Andrews developed evidence in the case.  They were aided by Alan Lasseter of the Lasseter Law Firm.

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