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Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Rook(er)ed! Stephen T. Mitchell is a criminal attorney who ahd been part of the panel of attorneys certified to serve as compensated, court-appointed counsel for indigent criminal defendants. The committee that certifies such counsel denied his recertification and terminated his appointment to the panel. Mitchell sued, claiming that the committee discriminated against him on the basis of his race and in retaliation of his complaints of racial discrimination.

The District Court dismissed the case. It held that the committee was an adjunct of the Court and was entitled to absolute immunity from damages. It also held that Mitchell was not entitled to injunctive relief because injunctive relief in a section 1983 action against a judicial officer for an act taken in that officer's judicial capacity unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. Finally, the Court dismised the claim for declaratory relief under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. That doctrine prohibits federal courts from reviewing decisions of state courts. The Court noted that, in this case, there was no decision made by any court, but reasoned that the decision of a body acting as an arm of the state judiciary was the functional equivalent of a judgment of a state court, which could not be reviewed by a federal court.

The Second Circuit held that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine did not apply. Federal courts were not precluded from reviewing "executive action, including determinations made by a state administrative agency." The committee was acting as an administrative body and was not conducting judicial proceedings. The Court also held that the committee's "decision was, in its effect, legislative rather than judicial," and, thus, not protected by the doctrine.

The Second Circuit also held that the defendants were not entitled to absolute immunity because their acts were not judicial or integrally related to a judicial proceeding.

The decision in Mitchell v. Fishbein can be found here.

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