Thursday, October 6, 2005


For my readers who don't know who Joseph E. Duncan III is, this is his resume:  Convicted in Washington State in 1980 of sexual assault on a 14 year old boy.  Released in 1996, he returned to prison for parole violations shortly thereafter and was finally released after serving his original 20 year sentence in 2000.  Five years later, this past March, he got in trouble with children again, this time in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota.  Although five years had passed between his release from prison and his rearrest in Minnesota, it is conceivable that other assaults and rapes occurred for which he was never charged.  In Becker County Duncan was released on bail.  He fled the jurisdiction. 

In May, a family near Coeur D'Alene Idaho was found murdered, while the two youngest children had disappeared.  After a very observant waitress spotted one of the children in a Denny's restaurant, Duncan was apprehended.  He is now charged with the bludgeoning deaths of the three Groene family members in their home.  Prosecutors will not charge him with the death of one of younger children, Dylan, aged 9 until the courts resolve the three earlier murders.  Shasta, the youngest child, was the only survivor.

Now it appears that a lawsuit for negligence has been filed against the judge and the prosecutor who permitted Duncan to post bail in Minnesota.  The complaint seeks $500,000 in damages.  That seems remarkably low under the circumstances.  However, judges, prosecutors and their ilk usually enjoy some limited immunity from suits alleging bad judgment or malpractice in their official capacities.  Otherwise judges and lawyers would have to be defending against them on a daily basis. 

Usually, when you're suing the government, you have to get permission.  Sometimes the government waives immunity in the interests of fairness and justice.  Implausible as it may seem, it sometimes happens.  That may have occurred in this case, I don't know.  Becker County officials claim they haven't seen the suit papers, and that is possible.  They won't admit to having seen anything until an sworn affidavit of service appears in the file.  If no prior agreement to waive immunity has been made, their first response will no doubt be a motion to dismiss.

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