WASHINGTON, April 2 (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court ruled
on Monday that a government investigator who initiates a
criminal case against a private individual and later lies to a
grand jury still has immunity from a civil lawsuit over his
The high court justices unanimously handed a defeat to a
Georgia accountant who wanted to proceed with his lawsuit
seeking damages from a government official who was the chief
investigator for a local prosecutor.
The accountant, Charles Rehberg, had engaged in an anonymous
"whistleblowing" campaign about unethical billing practices at a
hospital in Albany, Georgia.
Investigator James Paulk of the Dougherty County District
Attorney's office falsely testified to a grand jury that the
accountant had harassed doctors.
Paulk, who started the investigation as a favor to hospital
officials, later admitted he had no evidence and had not talked
to any witnesses. The charges against Rehberg were dismissed.
Rehberg then sued, but Paulk argued he was protected by
immunity, and a U.S. appeals court based in Atlanta agreed with
The Supreme Court's opinion by Justice Samuel Alito held
that witnesses in a grand jury proceeding were entitled to the
same absolute immunity from a civil lawsuit as a witness who
testifies at trial.
Without immunity, the truth-seeking process would be
impaired as witnesses might be reluctant to testify, Alito wrote
in the 18-page opinion, adding that a witness' fear of
litigation might deprive a grand jury of critical evidence.
Alito said potential liability was not needed as a deterrent
to prevent false testimony. Other sanctions, mainly criminal
prosecution for perjury, provided a sufficient deterrent, he
said. The justices agreed to decide the case after conflicting
appeals court rulings on the issue.
The Supreme Court case is Charles Rehberg v. James Paulk,
For Rehberg: Andrew Pincus of Mayer Brown.
For Paulk: John Jones.
(Reporting By James Vicini)
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