Judge Orders Unsealing Of Grand Jury Minutes

 

Judge Joseph Bianco of the Eastern District Court of New York issued an Order on Jan, 25 granting a motion to release the grand jury minutes that led to the criminal prosecution of ten former Sentosa nurses and their lawyer.

In 2007, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office presented a case before the Grand Jury whereby ten Filipino nurses who used to work at the Avalon Gardens Nursing Home in Smithtown, NY, and their civil rights lawyer, Felix Vinluan, were charged with endangering the welfare of a child, endangering the welfare of a physically disabled person, conspiring to do the same, and solicitation.

The ten nurses and Vinluan filed a motion to dismiss their indictments, but the Supreme Court Judge denied the same.  So, they went to the Second Department of the NY Supreme Court and filed a special proceeding for the issuance of a writ of prohibition.

The Second Department took the extraordinary step of issuing a writ of prohibition against further prosecution of the ten nurses and their lawyer. 

It found that the criminal prosecution was an “impermissible infringement on the constitutional rights of both the nurses and their attorney”.  It also found that they were being prosecuted for crimes for which they could not constitutionally be tried.

On January 6, 2010, the ten nurses and Vinluan filed the federal complaint in the Eastern District against Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, Assistant District Attorney Leonard Lato, the County of Suffolk, Sentosa Care LLC, Avalon Gardens, Prompt Nursing Employment Agency, Francis Luyun, Bent Philipson, Berish Rubenstein and the nursing administrators of Avalon Gardens.   They alleged that the Suffolk County defendants and the Sentosa defendants violated their constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983.  They filed malicious prosecution case against the defendants.

The nurses and Vinluan (plaintiffs in the federal case) pointed to specific alleged misconduct by the prosecution in the Grand Jury, including falsely informing the Grand Jury that one or more of the nurses had resigned during a shift and failing to tell the Grand Jury that the Education Department
had already determined that the nurse-plaintiffs had not violated the Education Law.  They alleged that their Grand Jury Indictment was procured through false testimony, improper charging on the law, and the withholding of exculpatory evidence.

In the discovery stage of the proceeding, the plaintiffs moved for the unsealing of the grand jury minutes.  The Suffolk County and Sentosa
defendants vigorously opposed the plaintiffs’ motion to unseal the minutes of the proceedings of, and release the exhibits presented to, the Grand Jury.

Judge Bianco articulated in his 22-page Order the importance of grand jury secrecy and the strong policy considerations that support such secrecy. 
He, however, ruled that the ten Filipino nurses and Vinluan have met their burden and have made a more than sufficient showing of need for inspection of the Grand Jury materials.  Denying plaintiffs access to the Grand Jury minutes, he said, would create a potential for injustice. 

In a phone conference with the parties’ lawyers on January 29, 2013, Judge Bianco advised the parties that before the grand jury materials are disclosed, there should be restrictions on their dissemination to ensure that they are not disclosed to the public, even though they are being made available to the parties for purposes of discovery in the litigation.

When the Grand Jury materials are finally reviewed by the ten Filipino nurses and Vinluan, they would know if the Suffolk County and Sentosa defendants really conspired to cause their malicious prosecution.

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