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Court shields police from lawsuits

By wire services
Published June 28, 2005


WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court ruled Monday that police cannot be sued for how they enforce restraining orders, ending a lawsuit by a Colorado woman who claimed police did not do enough to prevent her estranged husband from killing her three young daughters.

Jessica Gonzales did not have a constitutional right to police enforcement of the court order against her husband, the court said in a 7-2 opinion.

City governments had feared that if the court ruled the other way, it would unleash a potentially devastating flood of cases that could bankrupt municipal governments.

Gonzales contended that police did not do enough to stop her estranged husband, who took the three daughters from the front yard of her home in June 1999 in violation of a restraining order.

Hours later Simon Gonzales died in a gunfight with officers outside a police station. The bodies of the three girls, ages 10, 9 and 7, were in his truck.

Gonzales argued that she was entitled to sue based on her rights under the 14th Amendment and under Colorado law that says officers shall use every reasonable means to enforce a restraining order. She contended that her restraining order should be considered property under the 14th Amendment and that it was taken from her without due process when police failed to enforce it.

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, said, "The creation of a personal entitlement to something as vague and novel as enforcement of restraining orders cannot "simply go without saying.' We conclude that Colorado has not created such an entitlement."

In a dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, said that the woman's "description of the police behavior in this case and the department's callous policy of failing to respond properly to reports of restraining order violations clearly alleges a due process violation."

In other action Monday:

--The Supreme Court said it would consider whether to dismiss a lawsuit accusing ChevronTexaco Corp. and Shell Oil Co. of improperly inflating gas prices in the late 1990s.

Justices will review a lower court ruling that allowed the class-action lawsuit by 23,000 gas station owners to proceed. The lawsuit accuses Shell and Texaco of setting up two joint ventures in 1998 to illegally fix gas prices.

--The court declined to consider whether to throw out a conviction and death sentence in the 1966 contract murder of Sebring citrus and cattle baron Charles Von Maxcy.

Justices let stand a lower court ruling reinstating William Kelley's conviction. Calling the facts "extraordinary," the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta said Kelley received a fair trial when he was found guilty in the murder of Maxcy, arranged by Maxcy's young wife through her lover.

In 2002, U.S. District Judge Norman Roettger granted Kelley a new trial, saying that Hardy Pickard, the state prosecutor during the first trial, withheld basic evidence to secure a conviction. The appeals court then reinstated that conviction.