Missouri Fights St. Louis Over Wrongful Conviction Money

ST. LOUIS (CN) — After agreeing to pay half of a $13.8 million settlement to a man wrongfully convicted of murder, Missouri’s attorney general changed his mind and sued St. Louis, seeking to limit the state’s liability to $1 million.

Suing for the state on Feb. 9, Attorney General Josh Hawley sought declaratory relief in St. Louis City Circuit Court. Hawley seeks to limit to $1 million the amount of the settlement paid out of the State Legal Expense Fund (LEF), which is used to pay civil judgments against Missouri or any affiliated agents or agencies.

“There’s not really much to say, the petition lays it out,” St. Louis City Counselor Julian Bush told Courthouse News. “There’s a disagreement over the amount each side is willing to pay, and we look forward to a resolution.”

The underlying federal lawsuit was filed by George Allen against St. Louis, its police board and several police employees in 2014.

Allen was wrongfully convicted in 1983 of the rape and murder of Mary Bell, but the conviction was overturned in November 2012 and Allen was released from prison in January 2013.

Allen claimed the defendants fabricated evidence, illegally withheld exculpatory evidence that demonstrated his innocence, and coerced a false confession from him, all of which led to his conviction.

The Missouri Attorney General’s Office defended the police defendants and St. Louis was represented by its own counsel.

On Dec. 13, 2017, the defendants agreed to pay Allen $13,825,000 to settle his claims, with half to be paid by St. Louis and half by Missouri. The agreement included an initial $5 million payment, with annual payments of $2 million thereafter.

On Dec. 12, 2017, the state and St. Louis executed a side letter agreement stipulating that the parties may “disagree about the respective responsibility of the City and the State Legal Expense Fund to pay for all or part of the settlement amounts” due under the Allen Settlement.

Hawley claims that while the state agreed initially to pay half the settlement, its portion of contribution was still in dispute.

“The Side Agreement further provides: ‘By making these initial payments, the Parties do not concede that the aforementioned allocation of responsibility for the initial $5 million installment payment represents the proper allocation of responsibility for that payment. Rather, this initial allocation is made solely for the purpose to facilitate resolution of the Lawsuit,’” the complaint states.

The side agreement gave the state 60 days to initiate a declaratory judgment action to determine responsibility.

Missouri claims an amendment passed on Aug. 28, 2005 caps the amount available to the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners from the LEF at $1 million per fiscal year. It says St. Louis is the successor-in-interest to the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners.

“Per the statute’s plain language, after August 28, 2005, claims against St. Louis police board commissioners and St. Louis police officers shall be reimbursed out of the LEF only up to a maximum amount of one million dollars per fiscal year,” the complaint states.

“Allen’s conviction was not vacated until 2012, and he did not file his complaint until August 12, 2014. Both events occurred long after the statute was amended on August 28, 2005.”

Hawley also asks that “the State shall have the right to recoup from the City of St. Louis any amount already paid out of the Legal Expense Fund toward the Allen Settlement in excess of one million dollars.”

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