Tuesday, September 26, 2023
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County Attorney Can Be Sued Over Pet Seizure

(CN) - A Guadalupe County attorney is not immune from a lawsuit accusing her of illegally entering a Texas woman's home and helping to remove 47 dogs and cats, the 5th Circuit ruled.

Prosecutorial immunity shields a prosecutor's role of evaluating evidence and interviewing witnesses before trial, not the detective work that forms the basis of a complaint or prosecution, the New Orleans-based appeals court noted.

County attorney Elizabeth Murray-Kolb and three other county officials took the pets from Suzanne Hoog-Watson based suspicions of animal neglect. They had also heard that Hoog-Watson moved to a mental institution - a rumor that turned out to be false.

Murray-Kolb brought a proceeding against Hoog-Watson before the Justice of the Peace, but they settled the case before any hearing took place. Hoog-Watson agreed to pay some of the county's costs and allow periodic inspections.

She later sued the county, Murray-Kolb and other county officials, claiming the search and seizure violated federal and state laws.

The county defendants urged the court to dismiss the case on various immunity grounds, asserting prosecutorial, qualified and official immunity.

The district court dismissed the federal claims, and Hoog-Watson appealed.

She argued that the county attorney's involved role in the search and removal of her pets disqualified Murray-Kolb for prosecutorial immunity.

The 5th Circuit agreed, reversing dismissal of the federal claims and reviving the claims against Murray-Kolb.

Though prosecutors are immune for their role in evaluating evidence, "this is not the case, because Murray-Kolb evaluated the conditions at Hoog-Watson's property as part of the effort to assemble evidence," Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod concluded (original emphasis).

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