Judge Rejects Efforts to Halt Civil Rights Suit of Man Imprisoned for 27 Years

September 13, 1999 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES — A California judge today agreed to permit former Black Panther party leader Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt to proceed with his civil rights lawsuit against federal and local law enforcement officials for conspiring to convict him of a 1968 murder.

Federal district court Judge Christine Snyder said that it would be “improvident” to dismiss the case at this point.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, on behalf of Mr. Pratt, is alleging that Pratt’s conviction and life sentence for a 1968 murder was the result of a conspiracy by federal and local law enforcement agents. Pratt spent nearly three decades behind bars.

In legal papers, the ACLU said that the motions to dismiss the case “cobbled together a string of painfully weak arguments” in which the defendants had “misstated, mangled, and ignored fundamental legal principles.”

“We are pleased that Judge Snyder recognized the patent deficiencies in the motions to dismiss this case,” said ACLU of Southern California Chief Counsel Michael Small. “As a result of today’s ruling, Geronimo Pratt’s fight for justice will continue.”

In 1997, Pratt’s conviction was invalidated by a California State court that held he had not received a fair trial because evidence had been withheld. It was revealed that the star witness against him, Julius Butler, was a confidential informant for the Los Angeles Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

That piece of evidence, along with a startling array of additional information that surfaced after three decades, has cast new light on the actions of the LAPD, FBI, and Mr. Butler. It is these ties, Pratt says, that resulted in a coordinated campaign against him.

Defendants in the suit are the city of Los Angeles, five retired LAPD officers, seven former FBI agents, and Julius Butler. Each filed motions to dismiss the case on various grounds.

Pratt is also represented by Johnnie L. Cochran, the lawyer at Pratt’s original trial, and Stuart Hanlon, a San Francisco civil rights lawyer who has been part of Pratt’s legal team for more than a quarter-century.

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