MANHATTAN (CN) — A little more than three years to the day after a New York appeals court unraveled a fired police sergeant’s perjury conviction, a Second Circuit judge marveled Wednesday at how the prosecution of Bobby Farid Hadid ever got that far.
“Why would they charge him with perjury?” U.S. Circuit Judge Rosemary Pooler asked at oral arguments this morning.
“Why would they,” she continued, “unless they were just interested in somehow trimming his sails?”
As Hadid tells it in his retaliation suit, this was exactly what the city prosecutors had in mind after Hadid spoke out against the New York City Police Department’s so-called Demographics Unit.
Though the department would go on to disband the unit after a 2011 Associated Press investigation exposed its surveillance of Muslims and Arab-Americans, Hadid had been complaining about its methods internally for years at that point.
A “master linguist” recruited to provide French and Arabic translation for the unit, Hadid said he rankled his superiors in 2009 by noting that the NYPD is a law enforcement agency, “not an espionage agency.”
A year later, a prosecutor summoned Hadid into Kings County Supreme Court to testify about one of his assignments in Paris, translating the confession of homicide suspect Marien Kargu, as well as a statement by the man’s girlfriend, Liela Grison.
Hadid says Kargu’s ultimate conviction did not stop the department from accusing him with having a romantic relationship with Grison, and falsely testifying about her.
“If you understand the words that were spoken and you understand the context, it is crystal clear that this was a malicious prosecution,” Nathaniel Smith, an attorney for the former officer, said in court today.
Smith insisted that the government invented this relationship wholesale.
“He never ever asked or denied meeting her,” Smith said. “That is a fabrication! It continues to be a fabrication to this day if you read the briefs by the appellees.”
Hadid brought the underlying case in civil court after New York’s Appellate Division, Second Department found the evidence against Hadid “legally insufficient” to support the verdict.
“As a matter of law, the evidence failed to establish that Hadid had made a false statement under oath,” the four-judge panel found on Oct. 8, 2014.
Hadid wants the Second Circuit to reverse after U.S. District Judge William Kuntz found that his lawsuit could not overcome two hurdles: the statute of limitations and prosecutorial immunity.
At Wednesday’s arguments before the three-judge panel, Pooler was the most outspoken by far. She opined at one point that the prosecutors who brought Hadid’s case should have felt “embarrassed” that an appellate court found their case so thin.
“Whenever I got reversed, I thought it was humiliating, but that’s just me,” Pooler quipped, to laughter in the court.
Undercutting this enthusiasm, however, U.S. Circuit Judge John Walker warned that Hadid faces a high bar to prove the case should never have been brought.
“Failure to convict beyond a reasonable doubt is different from probable cause,” Walker said.
But Hadid’s attorney Smith claims to have come across a “massive record” of new evidence that came to light after the dismissal of his civil case.
“This was never disclosed during the perjury trial?” Judge Pooler asked the attorney.
“Never,” Smith responded, without skipping a beat.
The stack of files, Smith said, includes emails, phone records and other communications from the Department of Homeland Security, the Joint Terrorism Task Force and Intelligence Division.
“The file is this big, showing no relationship [between Hadid and Grison] at all,” Smith said.
New York City Law Department attorney Jonathan Popolow meanwhile was not so quick to write off the questions about Hadid and Grison’s relationship.
“Mr. Hadid took her confession when he was in Paris in which she admitted that she helped her boyfriend dispose of a dead body, the body of a victim that he was later convicted of manslaughter for killing,” Popolow told the judges.
In this context, Popolow suggested, the then-sergeant’s interactions with the woman were suspect.
“Mr. Hadid is aware of all of that information when he’s then having all of these subsequent contacts with Ms. Grison,” he added.
U.S. District Judge Geoffrey Crawford, sitting by designation from Vermont, rounded off the panel.