Almost 6 years after his exoneration, Bruce Lisker got one step closer last week to his day in court against the city of Los Angeles and the LAPD officers who he says lied in creating the case against him for the murder of his mother in 1983. In Pasadena last Thursday, Lisker's attorneys got 15 minutes to present their case to three judges of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The issue they were arguing is what part of a police officer's testimony or assessment of evidence and events is protected by witness immunity if it turns out to be untrue. The point is important: it goes directly to the protection the justice system offers those who testify in criminal trials. But what if, as Lisker maintains, the police are not telling the truth? When are those untruths simple mistakes and when are they fabrications? And do both of those situations still merit immunity?
The judges were trying to determine the difference between fabricating evidence and simply making a mistake in the way evidence was perceived or in the facts of the case as they were presented by the police officers. These arguments were presented because the city of Los Angeles and detectives Andrew Monsue and Howard Landren have asked for a "motion of summary judgement" in Lisker's civil case against them, stating in effect that the case should be dismissed because the police officers' testimony is covered by witness immunity.
The judges seemed well-versed in the case, and asked many questions of Lisker's attorney Barry Litt and the lawyer arguing the city's case. A big point for them was where to draw the line in testimony that is protected. What if in preparing evidence to go to trial, the detectives fabricate evidence or misrepresent evidence at the scene. What if they ignore evidence that might have implicated a different suspect? Does witness immunity also protect those actions?
Now the judges will discuss the merits of each side and render a decision, hopefully within 90 days. If the motion for summary judgement is dismissed, Lisker's case will be back on track for a trial date. If the city's motion is overruled, there is the chance they will appeal to the larger 9th Circuit and, ultimately, to the Supreme Court. But for now, Lisker will await the 9th Circuit ruling. It's an important point for others hoping to contest their verdicts, so the ruling will probably be published.
Money is an acute concern these days. Since his release, Lisker has tried to find employment. He has not gotten a job. He has started a website helping to connect prisoners with penpals, www.cellblock-services.com, and is offering his services as a consultant to those about to enter prison and serve time, and for website design which he learned in classes at Santa Monica College after his release. But his lack of employment weighs heavily on him.
He has sought and found refuge in love and happiness. In 2011 he married Kara Noble, who has been a strong supporter along with many friends and family who have rallied around him and provided the emotional support so necessary to sustain him through his re-entry into society. He felt positive after the court proceeding, knowing that it was the next step toward his day in court, and justice.
Photo of Lisker and Noble at the courthouse: Iris Schneider