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As the city of Worcester defends itself in a lawsuit over police treatment of a teenager who was jailed for nearly three years, the city is going after the lawyer who won the young woman's freedom.
Nga Truong was freed after a judge examined video recordings of her interrogation by Worcester detectives and concluded her confession was the result of police coercion.
Truong is now suing for the time she spent behind bars, but the city claims Truong's lawyer should share the blame.
Truong, who at the time was 16, was in the box at the Worcester police station because a day earlier her baby son, Khyle, had stopped breathing and couldn't be revived. Police had no physical evidence but insisted she had killed her son.
A judge later ruled that the police had engaged in a pattern of deliberate lies, threats and promises to coerce that confession. The judge reached that conclusion as the result of efforts by Truong's attorney, Ed Ryan. He had filed a motion to suppress the confession and without that confession, the district attorney had no case. So Truong went free after spending almost three years in jail.
"Ed Ryan defended her ably, he defended her vigorously and he defended her well," said attorney Jonathan Reinstein, one of the attorneys representing Truong in a civil rights suit against the city of Worcester.
But Reinstein is also defending Ryan, Truong's defense lawyer, because the city now claims Ryan engaged in malpractice. It says he took too much time to prove the city had coerced the confession.
Reinstein, his fellow attorneys and almost two dozen other criminal lawyers showed up in court Thursday to call the city's claim against Ryan unprecedented and bizarre.
"The chilling effect is the timing," said attorney and Ryan supporter William Sullivan, of Quincy.
"It's only on television that cases get solved in one hour with three commercial interruptions," said George Gormley, another member of the legal team now suing the city and defending Ryan.
One supporting lawyer says he had a murder case that took six years to go to trial. Sullivan says he had one that took three and a half years.
"In a murder case, you get one shot at that motion to suppress so you don't want to rush it," Sullivan explained. "You get your one chance and you better do it right."
The solicitor for the city of Worcester, David Moore, claims that Ryan took nearly two years to file his motion to suppress the confession. But federal Judge Tim Hillman concluded that was an exaggeration: It had taken a year and a half.
Moore told the judge that Truong ended up spending 995 nights in jail partly because of Ryan's "breach of his duty" and that as a result Ryan, who won Truong's freedom from a life in prison while the city's police department denied any wrongdoing, must share the cost of any damages that might be awarded to to his own client.
Before the judge, Reinstein argued that the city of Worcester offered not a single allegation but only speculation that Ryan committed malpractice. After the hearing, Moore acknowledged there is no case, no precedent to cite to support the complaint against Ryan. But he says Ryan's delay was "unreasonable."
Ryan put the focus back on that interrogation video of two Worcester cops overwhelming a scared, naive 16-year-old with lies and threats.
Judge Hillman, a former trial lawyer himself, observed it is a tough enough job to defend a client from a murder charge without having to look over your shoulder and worry about being sued if you don't file, even if you're not ready.
At another point, in talking about scheduling, the judge said, "I'd like to take my time but I wouldn't want anyone suing me." The city solicitor didn't laugh.
This program aired on August 23, 2013.
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