Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

California Wrongful Conviction Lawsuit Settled for $7.95 Million

A long-running lawsuit against the City of Long Beach, California for Thomas Goldstein’s wrongful murder conviction was settled in June 2010 for $7.95 million.

After serving 24 years in prison following his 1980 conviction, Goldstein was finally released based on new evidence that the police had coached the lone eyewitness to identify him and that a jailhouse informant (ironically named Eddy Fink), who claimed that Goldstein made a “jailhouse confession,” had received an undisclosed deal in exchange for his testimony and lied about the deal at trial. Although the District Attorney’s office had the option to retry Goldstein in 2004, it declined to do so.

Following his release, Goldstein filed suit against both the District Attorney and Long Beach as well as DA and city employees. The case resulted in six years of hard-fought litigation, including a ruling by the Ninth Circuit (Goldstein v. City of Long Beach, 481 F.3d 1180 (9th Cir. 2007)) that was reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court (Van de Kamp v. Goldstein, 129 S.Ct. 855 (2009) [PLN, March 2009, p.26]). With only two months to go before trial, Goldstein and the City of Long Beach reached a settlement; the county and the District Attorney’s office had been dismissed previously on immunity grounds.

Barry Litt, a long-time civil rights attorney in Los Angeles who joined Goldstein’s case to head the trial team, noted that the settlement appeared to be the highest in California for a wrongful conviction. Litt commented, “Cases like this are vital because they hold the authorities accountable for violating the constitutional right to be provided all information that can help the defense.”

In Goldstein’s case, the information that the authorities suppressed would have led to his acquittal rather than his conviction. Instead, their conduct resulted in Goldstein spending 24 years in some of the state’s worst prisons – years he never should have served and can never recover, his attorneys noted.

The lawsuit was one of many resulting from the District Attorney’s jailhouse informant scandal, which resulted in a 1990 report by a Special Grand Jury. According to the Grand Jury report, informants engaged in perjury an “appalling number” of times and set out “to secure incriminating statements from other defendants” in exchange for benefits, often – as in Goldstein’s case – in the form of lenient sentences.

Informants used incriminating information provided by law enforcement to concoct alleged “confessions.” Details about the benefits given to informants in exchange for their assistance was often not revealed to the court or defense counsel.

The Pasadena law firm of Kaye, McLane & Bednarski represented Goldstein from the beginning of his lawsuit, and attorney Ronald Kaye served as co-lead counsel with Barry Litt. “Not only was Mr. Goldstein’s life stolen from him, but these abhorrent informant practices of the Long Beach Police and the District Attorney’s office were used in the convictions and sentencing of numerous others, resulting in life imprisonment and even death [sentences],” said Kaye. “This case and many others reveal the way in which Long Beach homicide detectives violated defendants’ constitutional rights with impunity by withholding favorable evidence which would have changed the outcome of their trials. Mr. Goldstein’s victory is a victory for all of those voiceless victim defendants still in custody that the truth can be found and justice can prevail.”

Goldstein expressed relief that his long ordeal was over. “Finally, after 30 years of fighting to establish my innocence and to vindicate my rights, this painful chapter of my life has been brought to a close,” he stated. “I spent years in prison fighting for my release. I was labeled a sociopath and denied parole for asserting that I was innocent and wrongly convicted. As one of the few Jewish inmates in the California prison system, I was physically attacked and threatened by all sides. With this settlement, I hope to rebuild my life and to help others who have not been as fortunate as I am today.”

The $7.95 million settlement, which included attorney fees, was finalized in August 2010. See: Goldstein v. City of Long Beach, U.S.D.C. (C.D. Cal.), Case No. 2:04-cv-09692-AHM-E.

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Goldstein v. City of Long Beach