WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court refused Monday to allow a wrongful death suit against a federal prosecutor accused of disclosing the name of an informant to the target of a criminal investigation, who then contracted for her murder.
The justices let stand a ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissing the suit filed by the mother of Lena Margaret Barbera against former U.S. Attorney Stephen Schlessinger.
The case stems from a notorious New York multiple murder on April 12, 1982, in which Barbera and three CBS employees who heard her screams and rushed to her aid were shot down in a Manhattan parking lot.
Investigators discovered that Barbera's boss, Irwin Margolies, knew she was a cooperating witness for the government in a mail fraud investigation of his company and paid for her murder to keep her quiet. Court records indicate Schlessinger had disclosed her identity to Margolies' lawyer.
Following Margolies' conviction for murder, Barbera's mother, Jacqueline, filed suit alleging that Schlessinger caused Barbera's death by revealing her identity as an informant.
But the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the suit in December 1987, ruling that Schlessinger had immunity from suit for actions taken in his official capacity as an assistant U.S. attorney.
Appealing to the high court, Barbera's mother argued that Schlessinger had a duty to protect her daughter from harm, but violated that duty by not only revealing her identity but by refusing to provide her with police protection.
'The perils of exposing informers' identities have been known for millenia,' Barbera's lawyer, William Kunstler, told the high court. 'Schlessinger embarked upon a monstrously reckless course of action that caused the deaths of five people. He should be held accountable for his actions.'
Justice Department lawyers opposed the appeal, saying that Barbera 'did not have a clearly established right' to receive protection from the government.
Barbera was an accountant for Margolies' company, the Candor Diamond Corp., at the time of the murder. She had agreed to plead guilty to a single count of fraud in exchange for her cooperation in the federal grand jury investigation.
Schlessinger was the assistant U.S. attorney in charge of the investigation in December 1981 when he informed one of Margolies' lawyers that Barbera and another female employee at Candor were cooperating with the government.
The following month, one of Barbera's colleagues at Candor, Jenny Soo Chin, disappeared. Shortly thereafter, Barbera expressed fear for her life and asked Schlessinger for police protection, but the request was turned down, according to court documents.
On April 12, 1982, Barbera was abducted from the rooftop parking area at Pier 92 in Manhattan and killed along with the three CBS technicians who stumbled upon the crime scene as they retrieved their cars after work.
Donald Nash, a contract killer, was quickly arrested for the murders. He was convicted and received four sentences of 25 years to life. It took longer for investigators to compile the evidence against Margolies, who eventually was tried for the murders of Barbera and Chinn and sentenced to two 25-years-to-life sentences.
87-2034 -- Barbera vs.