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West Ventura County Focus

VENTURA : Lawsuit Against Prosecutors Denied

July 21, 1995|BARBARA MURPHY

A federal court has dismissed a lawsuit filed against county prosecutors by a Ventura burglary suspect whose private conversation with his attorney was listened to by a district attorney's investigator.

The U. S. District Court for the Central District of California ruled that prosecutors had immunity from civil liability when a deputy district attorney ordered her investigator to listen to Robert Morrow's conversation with his lawyer.

Morrow, 31, filed suit alleging a violation of his civil rights and conspiracy to violate his constitutional right against self-incrimination and right to counsel.

He was awaiting trial in January, 1994, when Deputy Dist. Atty. Stacy Ratner, apparently anxious to find out whether the case would be postponed because she had an upcoming ski trip, ordered investigator Kathleen Smith to eavesdrop on a conversation between Morrow and Deputy Public Defender Mary Fielder, court documents state.

A courtroom bailiff who witnessed the incident reported it, and an appeals court eventually dismissed the burglary case against Morrow because of the eavesdropping.

The state attorney general's office filed criminal charges against Ratner and Smith that eventually were dismissed.

Besides Ratner and Smith, Morrow's civil lawsuit in federal court named Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury and the county of Ventura as defendants. The court ruled that Bradbury, Ratner and Smith had immunity from civil liability and that Morrow failed to allege any details of a conspiracy that would render the county responsible for what occurred.

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