A federal appeals court decided that a former district attorney on Long Island has immunity from a civil rights suit even though his offices violated the Constitution’s prohibitions on forced labor by wrongfully indicting 10 Filipino nurses who quit their jobs in protest, Reuters reports. Dissenting Judge Denny Chin disagreed, saying "prosecutors were complicit" in what appears to be a racially motivated effort to take advantage of a group of foreign workers. The ruling is shows how immunities created by the U.S. Supreme Court protect government officials from accountability even for reprehensible misconduct. Absolute immunity is broader than the widely criticized qualified immunity doctrine. Prosecutors, unlike police, are protected by both in most circumstances, as are judges and legislators.
This was not the first allegation of wrongdoing for the target of the nurses' lawsuit, former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, who was convicted of obstruction of justice and witness tampering in an unrelated 2019 case. The former DA and his top anticorruption prosecutor were convicted and each sentenced to five years in prison for a years-long coverup of serious misconduct by the county police chief, a protege of Spota. Sentosa Care, the nursing home operator that used to employ the 10 foreign workers, was held liable by a different federal court for violating the Trafficking Victims Protection Act by threatening another group of Filipino nurses with massive financial penalties if they left their jobs. Those plaintiffs were awarded more than $1.5 million, and another $3 million class settlement was approved in November 2021.