Lawsuit settles. How long did it take?

I read about this old criminal case in yesterday’s New York Times, via AP: Man Named in Yale Student’s ’98 Killing Settles Suit – NYTimes.com.

I was startled a bit, for a couple of reasons. It had been a big story, the Yale student murdered, a Yale professor the focus of the investigation. And then the story dwindled, and I did not think about it again.

Until yesterday, when I was reminded of the year of the murder — could it have been as long ago as 1998? — and that no one had ever been indicted and convicted of the crime. Yet James Van de Velde, the Yale professor, has lived under a cloud of suspicion for all these years.

I was also startled that Mr. Van de Velde had somehow been able to make a new life for himself (Yale had fired him). But my biggest startle was that he, not surprisingly, had sued Yale and New Haven for violating his civil rights (I’m pretty sure there is no legal cause of action called “ruining my life”) and that his case just settled.

Just settled. This is a lesson in how long a civil lawsuit can continue before ending.

Then, when I went into the Times web site to pick up this link, I found another Times article today, a fuller story about Mr. Van de Velde and his case and another article, but this one from 2004, when the Times reported that Mr. Van de Velde’s federal case against Yale had been dismissed by a federal judge. Mr. Van de Velde’s lawyer, David Grudberg, was quoted as saying, as lawyers generally do when their cases have been dismissed, that he intended to appeal and ask the judge for reconsideration.

So either Mr. Grudberg won some part of that appeal or pursued his state case successfully enough to push this settlement. And he and his client stuck together throughout the life of this case which began when it was first filed in 2001. Therefore, he has to get the last powerful word here, as quoted in yesterday’s New York Times:

“This case is another example of the awful damage that can occur when authorities make a rush to judgment and ignore the facts.”

It’s a hell of a story, pretty literally. It would make a terrific movie.

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