In rare cases in federal court it is possible to make the government pay for a wrongful prosecution. On November 26, 1997, Congress passed the Hyde Amendment which provides that if a defendant prevails in a prosecution brought in federal court and the court finds that the prosecution was “vexatious, frivolous or in bad faith,” the government can be required to pay the attorney’s fees and litigation costs that the defendant incurred in connection with the prosecution.
The Hyde Amendment
Broden & Mickelsen recently forced the government to pay its client $356,000 under the Hyde Amendment. It is only one of only a handful of Hyde Amendment claims that have been won since the passage of the law twelve years ago. Nevertheless, the road was a very long one.
Count Wolfgang Von Schlieffen, a German Count, was arrested in 1993 and convicted at trial in 1994 of drug distribution after a trial held in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. He was sentenced to ten years imprisonment.
After going through approximately six sets of lawyers, Count Von Schlieffen retained Broden & Mickelsen in 1999. Through the tireless efforts of one of the best private investigators in the country, Gary McDaniel from Palm Beach Florida, Count Von Schlieffen was awarded a new trial.
At that trial Broden & Mickelsen was able to convince Judge Wilkie Ferguson that the main witness against the Count, a paid informant named Helmut Groebe, had entrapped the Count. As a result, Judge Ferguson dismissed all the charges and released Count Von Schlieffen after the Count had spent almost seven years in prison.
Broden & Mickelsen then brought a Hyde Amendment claim on behalf of Count Von Schlieffen. The Count had spent several hundred thousands of dollars on lawyers and investigators in order to defend himself and expose Groebe. It was not until 2003, when Judge Ferguson was in the hospital and dying of Leukemia, that Judge Ferguson granted the Hyde Amendment claim. It would be the last order Judge Ferguson signed as he died approximately one week later. In his order Judge Ferguson was highly critical of the way in which the government’s case agent, DEA Agent Lee Lucas, controlled Groebe.
The government sought to take advantage of Judge Ferguson death and sought reconsideration of his order. Unfortunately, the motion actually sat with a magistrate judge for several years. During that time, Count Von Schlieffen died but Broden & Mickelsen represented his estate in connection with the Hyde Amendment claim.
It was not until early this year, sixteen years after Count Von Schlieffen’s death, that a final order was entered awarding the Estate of Wolfgang Von Schlieffen $356,000 for the government’s wrongful prosecution of Count Von Schlieffen.
Coincidentally, a few months later DEA Agent Lee Lucas, the agent that Judge Ferguson found had mishandled informant Groebe in this case, was indicted in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio for conspiring with informants to falsely accuse innocent people of distributing drugs in the Cleveland, Ohio area.
For a news article about this case, click here: Hyde Amendment article