Conn v. Gabbert

PETITIONER: Conn
RESPONDENT: Gabbert
LOCATION: Kimberley Thompson's Apartment

DOCKET NO.: 97-1802
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 526 US 286 (1999)
ARGUED: Feb 23, 1999
DECIDED: Apr 05, 1999

ADVOCATES:
Kevin C. Brazile - Argued the cause for the petitioners
Michael J. Lightfoot - Argued the cause for the respondent

Facts of the case

Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorneys David Conn and Carol Najera, prosecutors in the retrial of the Menendez brothers, learned that Lyle Menendez had written a letter to Traci Baker, in which he may have instructed her to testify falsely at the first trial. After being subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury and to produce any correspondence that she had received from Menendez, Baker responded that she had given all of Menendez's letters to her attorney, Paul L. Gabbert. When Baker appeared as directed before the grand jury, accompanied by Gabbert, Conn directed police to secure a warrant to search Gabbert for the letter. While Gabbert was being searched, Najera called Baker before the grand jury for questioning. Gabbert brought suit against the prosecutors contending that his Fourteenth Amendment right to practice his profession without unreasonable government interference was violated when the prosecutors executed a search warrant at the same time his client was testifying before the grand jury. The Federal District Court granted Conn and Najera summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. Reversing in part, the Court of Appeals held that Conn and Najera were not entitled to qualified immunity on Gabbert's Fourteenth Amendment claim because their actions were not objectively reasonable. The court concluded that Gabbert had a right to practice his profession without undue and unreasonable government interference.

Question

Does a prosecutor violate the opposing attorney's Fourteenth Amendment right to practice his profession when the prosecutor causes the attorney to be searched at the same time his client is testifying before a grand jury?

Media for Conn v. Gabbert

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 23, 1999 in Conn v. Gabbert

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 05, 1999 in Conn v. Gabbert

William H. Rehnquist:

The third case is No. 97-1802, Conn versus Gabbert.

This case arises out of a high profile California murder trials of the Menendez Brothers.

The petitioners David Conn and Carol Najera were Los Angeles District Attorneys working on the case and the respondent Paul Gabbert is a criminal defense attorney.

The prosecutors believe that Tracy Baker one of Gabbert’s clients had perjured herself at the first Menendez’s trial.

It came to their attention that Baker might have in her possession a letter from one of the brothers relevant to the perjury investigation.

So Baker was ordered to bring the letter with her when she appeared before the grand jury.

On that day the prosecutors executed a search warrant upon Gabbert at the same time his client Baker was testifying before the grand jury.

This had the effect of preventing Baker from conferring with Gabbert during her testimony.

Gabbert believes that the timing and execution of the search warrant interfered with his liberty right to practice law protected by the Fourteenth Amendment and he sued the prosecutors.

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that Gabbert had a clearly established right to practice his profession without undue and unreasonable government interference and that the prosecutors were not entitled to qualified immunity.

We disagree.

Although we have recognized that Fourteenth Amendment Liberty Right to choose and follow ones calling, we find no support in our cases for the Ninth Circuit’s conclusion that the Fourteenth Amendment Right asserted by Gabbert was violated in this case.

The cases which do establish this general right to practice ones callings, cases like Truax against Raich, Meyer against Nebraska dealt with complete prohibitions on the right not the sort of brief interruption as a result of legal process which occurred here.

To the extent that Gabbert argued that the use of a search warrant interfered with his clients purported right to have him present outside the jury room.

The court has never recognized such a right and even if it had Gabbert would have no standing to raise any alleged violation of the rights of his client.

We held in Graham against Conner that one of the explicit textural provision that Constitution protects the right, a court must assess a plaintiff’s claims under that provision and not under the generalized substantive due process protections of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Here if you have a complaint about the search warrant, early comes on to have the Fourth Amendment and not the Fourteenth Amendment, and we did not grant certiorari on the Fourth Amendment claim.

So the judgment on Ninth circuit is reversed.

Justice Stevens has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.