Supreme Court to decide lawyer immunity question

By Jesse J. Holland

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court prepared for its fall session Tuesday by announcing seven new cases it will hear next year, including one that will determine whether private lawyers hired as outside counsels for governments can be sued.

The nine justices of the Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments in cases granted for the 2011 portion of their new session next week. But first they met privately to begin deciding which cases the court will hear beginning in January 2012.

One of those appeals will be that of lawyer Steve Filarsky, who wants the high court to throw out a lawsuit against him that was filed because of some government work he accepted. He was hired by the city of Rialto, Calif., to investigate the possible misuse of sick leave.

Nicholas B. Delia, a firefighter suspected of working on his house while on sick leave, sued Filarsky after the investigation. Delia had said he had bought material to work on his house but never opened it. The fire chief then ordered Delia to bring the unopened material out of his house for inspection or face disciplinary action.

Delia said that order was an unconstitutional warrantless search and sued the city, the fire department and Filarsky.

A federal judge threw all of Delia's lawsuits out, including the one against Filarsky. The judge ruled that Filarsky had the same immunity as the city's employees.

But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, saying its rulings had never extended to a nongovernment worker the same immunity government workers enjoy. A separate appeals court -- the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals -- has extended immunity to nongovernment employees.

The Supreme Court will now resolve this conflict.

The court also agreed to hear the Obama administration's appeal of lower court rulings in favor of immigrants who were seeking to avoid being deported.

The justices will review two rulings by the federal appeals court in San Francisco that allowed immigrants accused of crimes to try to stop their deportations. Both cases hinge on a provision of immigration law that allows people who have been in the United States legally for more than five years or illegally for more than seven years to seek leniency. The appeals court said immigrants who came as children could count their parents' years in the United States.

The Obama administration opposes that rule, saying it conflicts with its "high-priority efforts to remove criminal aliens."

Published: Thu, Sep 29, 2011