John R. Williams
- Criminal Defense
- Federal Civil Rights
- Employment Law
- Legal Malpractice
A lawyer for more than 50 years, John Williams started his legal career as a lobbyist for Aetna Life & Casualty in Hartford in 1967, following several years working in staff positions in the United States Senate. His introduction to litigation came when company lawyers were asked to donate time to pro bono publico activities of the Hartford County Bar. His first criminal client was Preston ("The Real Thing") Holloway, a man sentenced to life in prison in the 1950s for "use of heroin" in the days before the Fourth Amendment prohibition on illegal searches and seizures was applied to the states. Obtaining his release from prison and a job in the Aetna cafeteria, Williams was quickly disillusioned with corporate liberalism when a Senior Vice President fired Holloway upon learning that thirty years earlier he had suffered from a venereal disease. Forced to return to a life on the streets, he was promptly arrested on other charges and returned to prison.
Leaving Aetna for more useful activity, Williams became chief criminal attorney in the Hill Neighborhood Law Office of the New Haven Legal Assistance Association in the summer of 1969. His first major case was as one of the defense attorneys in the murder prosecution of the local and national leadership of the Black Panther Party, the so-called New Haven Nine. After their acquittal in the summer of 1971, Williams joined Catherine Roraback and Michael Avery, two other Black Panther Party lawyers, in forming New Haven's first public interest law firm. That firm continues today under the name John R. Williams and Associates, LLC.
John Williams is best known as a pioneer in the field of police misconduct litigation. Since 1971, he and his firm have filed most of the police misconduct suits litigated in the federal court in Connecticut. He and his associates have argued many of the Section 1983 appeals decided by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in the years since then, and his name and the names of his associates appear on many of the important Second Circuit decisions in this field. He writes and lectures extensively in the area.
His notable Section 1983 cases include Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516 (2002) (Prison Litigation Reform Act); Liscio v. Warren, 901 F.2d 274 (2d Cir. 1990) (medical treatment of prisoners); Cartier v. Lussier, 955 F.2d 841 (2d Cir. 1992) (misrepresentations in arrest warrant applications); Mozzochi v. Borden, 959 F.2d 1174 (2d Cir. 1992) (release-dismissal agreements); Dobosz v. Walsh, 892 F.2d 1135 (2d Cir. 1989) (police whistleblowers); Musso v. Hourigan, 836 F.2d 736 (2d Cir. 1988) (free speech at public meetings); Sousa v. Roque, 578 F.3d 164 (2d Cir. 2009) (free speech rights of public employees are not limited by the motivations of the speaker); Reed v. Town of Branford, 949 F. Supp. 87 (D. Conn. 1996) (age discrimination as a &1983 violation and harassment as a substantive due process violation); Gavlak v. Town of Somers, 267 F. Sup. 2d 214 (D. Conn. 2003) (rights of property owners in zoning disputes); In re Alexander V., 223 Conn. 557, 613 A.2d 780 (1992) (familial relationships as a fundamental constitutional right); Warren v. Dwyer, 906 F.2d 70 (2d Cir. 1990) (submission of qualified immunity question to jury); Gagnon v. Ball, 696 F.2d 17 (2d Cir. 1982) (police bystander liability); Pitchell v. Callan, 13 F.3d 545 (2d Cir. 1994) (color of law); Miller v. Lovett, 879 F.2d 1066 (2d Cir. 1989) (pendent jurisdiction); Dodd v. City of Norwich, 827 F.2d 1 (2d Cir. 1987) (municipal liability); Pouncey v. Ryan, 396 F. Supp. 126 (D. Conn. 1975) (Newman, J.) (collateral estoppel effect of prior conviction); O'Neill v. Krzeminski, 839 F.2d 9 (2d Cir. 1988) (standard for punitive damages); and Ruggiero v. Krzeminski, 928 F.2d 558 (2d Cir. 1991) (opportunity cost as a factor in attorney fee awards).
He also is an active criminal practitioner. His celebrated cases include the Lorne Acquin mass murder case in Prospect, Connecticut, in 1977 which remains the largest mass murder case ever prosecuted in the State of Connecticut. He represented members of the Black Panther Party in the so-called "New Haven Nine" prosecutions between 1969 and 1971, members of the Black Liberation Army, Los Macheteros, and other controversial cases. He has argued countless appeals in the Connecticut Supreme Court in both criminal law and other areas of the law. He has contributed to the expansion of rights for criminal defendants under the state constitution, going beyond the protections afforded by the federal Bill of Rights. State v. Joyce, 229 Conn. 10, 639 A.2d 1007 (1994). For several interesting weeks in 1976, he succeeded in decriminalizing both the possession and the sale of marijuana in Connecticut until an astonished Connecticut Supreme Court overturned the lower court's ruling. (The lower court judge later was himself appointed to the Supreme Court.) State v. Anonymous (1976-3), 32 Conn. Supp. 324, 355 A.2d 729 (1976) (Berdon, J.), reversed State v. Rao, 171 Conn. 600, 370 A.2d 1310 (1976).
He takes particular pride in his efforts to reshape and democratize the Connecticut jury system. In 1976, he was the first Connecticut lawyer to challenge in federal court the then common prosecutorial practice of using "peremptory challenges" to remove minorities from juries in criminal cases. United States v. Newman, 549 F.2d 240 (2d Cir. 1977).
Throughout the entire decade of the 1970s and into the 1980s, in a series of state and federal court cases, he fought many court battles to change the method by which Connecticut juries were selected, a complex legacy of the colonial era which produced juries that were disproportionately white, male, middle-aged and suburban. Finally, in 1986, in the companion cases of Alston v. Manson and Haskins v. Manson, 791 F.2d 255 (2d Cir. 1986), he persuaded the United States Court of Appeals to strike down the Connecticut system.
In the cases of State v. Anthony, 172 Conn. 172, 374 A.2d 156 (1976); and State v. Roberson, 173 Conn. 102, 376 A.2d 1087 (1977); he persuaded the Connecticut Supreme Court to prohibit trial court judges from limiting the time lawyers could question prospective jurors during the jury selection process, thereby reducing the danger of biased jurors infecting trials with racial and other prejudices.
One of his most celebrated cases was the New Haven Wiretap Litigation class action in the federal court in Connecticut running from 1977 to 1984, in which he represented more than 1,000 people from all walks of life and strata of society who had been victimized by an unlawful wiretap operation conducted jointly by local police and FBI agents for more than a decade. This litigation resulted in a settlement of over $1 million, led to significant reforms in the area of personal privacy, and generated a voluminous history of illegal police surveillance of the Black Panther Party which is now archived at Yale's Beineke Library.
He has worked extensively, and sometimes successfully, in cases involving the "false confession syndrome," in which innocent people have confessed to crimes they did not commit. E.g., Miller v. Angliker, 848 F.2d 1312 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 890 (1988); State v. LaPointe, 237 Conn. 694, 678 A.2d 942 (1996). He was the first lawyer in the United States to win an acquittal in a criminal case on the ground that the ingestion of prozac caused the criminal behavior. State v. DeAngelo, 2000 WL 973104 (Conn. Super. 2000).
In the civil arena, his cases have significantly expanded the rights of plaintiffs in such fields as the intentional infliction of emotional distress and vexatious litigation [DeLaurentis v. City of New Haven, 220 Conn. 225, 597 A.2d 807 (1991)]; the rights of divorced persons to sue their former spouses for marital torts [Delahunty v. Massachusetts Mutual Life Ins. Co., et al., 236 Conn. 582, 674 A.2d 1290 (1996)]; the right of parents to sue public school systems for educational inadequacies [Bell v. Board of Education, 55 Conn. App. 400, 739 A.2d 321 (1999)]; the rights of gays to equal treatment in child-visitation cases [Zavatsky v. Anderson, 130 F. Supp. 2d 349 (D. Conn. 2001)]; and the appellate rights of parties in workers compensation cases [Cantoni v. Xerox Corp., 251 Conn. 153, 740 A.2d 796 (1999)]. Other notable appellate cases include Davis v. Margolis, 215 Conn. 408, 576 A.2d 489 (1990) (qualifications for expert witnesses in legal malpractice cases); DeLeo v. Nusbaum, 263 Conn. 588 (2003), which established the "continuous representation rule" for statute of limitations purposes in legal malpractice cases; Drumm v. Brown, 245 Conn. 657, 716 A.2d 50 (1998), limiting the "exhaustion of tribal remedies" bar to suits against Indian tribes and their leaders; and Lopes v. Farmer, 286 Conn. 384, 944 A.2d 921 (2008), which extended the commencement of the statute of limitations for malicious prosecution actions until the favorable termination of the underlying criminal case. In Bhatia v. Debek, 287 Conn. 397, 948 A.2d 1009 (2008), in which he won a $3.5 million verdict for the victim of false allegations of child abuse in a custody dispute, he established for Connecticut a rule that private citizens are liable for malicious prosecutions by police and prosecutors when they knowingly file false complaints with the police.
In recent years, he has devoted considerable energy to protecting the rights of high school girls, who have been the victims of sexual assault or harassment, to fair treatment by school officials. He has had a lot of success in pursuing litigation for these young women in the federal courts pursuant to Title IX of the Civil Rights Act. His victories have included Doe ex rel. A.N. v. East Haven Board of Education, 430 F. Supp. 2d 54 (D. Conn.), affirmed 200 Fed. Appx. 46 (2nd Cir. 2006); Doe ex rel. Doe v. Coventry Board of Education, 630 F. Supp. 2d 226 (D. Conn. 2009); Doe ex rel. Doe v. Hamden Board of Education, 2008 WL 2113345 (D. Conn. 2008); Doe ex rel. Doe v. Derby Board of Education, 451 F. Supp. 2d 438 (D. Conn. 2006); and Riccio v. New Haven Board of Education, 467 F. Supp. 2d. 219 (D. Conn. 2006). Using the same law, he was able to obtain a favorable settlement for an older woman who was the victim of sexual harassment while a student at the Yale Drama School, in Greenhouse v. Yale University (2008).
His current litigation docket includes a number of suits on behalf of employees who have been subjected to harassment or discipline because of their exercising their right to free speech. In Jennings V. Town of Stafford, 263 F. Supp. 3d 391 (D. Conn. 2017), he obtained a verdict of more than $2 million for a police detective harassed by his Chief for speaking his mind about what he thought was a "sweetheart deal" the police union had made with the Chief.
Current Employment Position
- Lead Attorney
- U. S. Senator Milton R. Young (R.N.D.), Legislative Assistant, 1963 to 1967
- Office of General Counsel, Aetna Life & Casualty, Hartford, CT, Attorney (Specialization: Legislative Liaison), 1967 to 1969
- Hill Neighborhood Law Office, New Haven Legal Assistance Association, Chief Criminal Attorney, 1969 to 1971
- Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, District of Columbia
- J.D. – 1967
- Honors: Associate Editor, Georgetown Law Journal
- Harvard College
- A.B. – 1963
- Honors: cum laude
- Connecticut, 1968
- U.S. District Court District of Connecticut, 1968
- U.S. Court of Appeals 2nd Circuit, 1971
- U.S. Supreme Court, 1973
Classes & Seminars
- Police Misconduct Workshop (With Prof. Thomas Emerson & Atty. Michael Avery), Yale Law School, 1971 to 1974
- Trial Practice, Yale Law School, 1980 to 1990
- Annual Section 1983 Litigation Seminar and Handbook, Practising Law Institute, 1984
- Unreasonable Force Seminar and Handbook, Practising Law Institute, 1992 to 1994
- Unreasonable Force Seminar and Handbook, Practising Law Institute, 1998 to 2001
- Municipal Liability from the Plaintiff's Perspective, Defense Research Institute, 1988 to 1992
- Section 1983 Litigation, Federal Judicial Center, 2000
- Police Misconduct Litigation, Indiana Trial Lawyers Association, 1982
- Federal Civil Rights Litigation, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, 1992
- Civil Liability of Law Enforcement Officers, Narcotics Enforcement Officers Association, 1988
- Civil Rights Litigation on Behalf of Plaintiffs, New York State Bar Association, 2002
- Malicious Prosecution Litigation, University of Pennsylvania Law School, 2001
- The Constitutionality of Basic Protection, 1 Conn. L. Rev. 44, 1968
- "A Practitioner's Guide to Representing Plaintiffs in Section 1983 Litigation," Civil Rights Litigation and Attorney Fees, Clark Boardman Co., Vol. 4, 1988
- "The Ben Miller Frame-Up," Convicting the Innocent, Connery, Ed., Brookline Books, 1996
- Police Misconduct - A Plaintiff's Point of View, 16 Touro L. Rev. 933, 2000
- Punitive Damages in Section 1983 Actions, 17 Touro L. Rev. 575, 2001
- Beyond Police Misconduct and False Arrest, Expanding the Scope of 42 U.S.C. & 1983 Litigation, VIII Suffolk Journal of Trial & Appellate Advocacy 39, 2003
- False Arrest, Malicious Prosecution, and Abuse of Process in & 1983 Litigation, 20 Touro L. Rev. 705, 2004
- Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 2002
- Liscio v. Warren, 901 F.2d 274, 1990, 2d Cir.
- Cartier v. Lussier, 955 F.2d 841, 1992, 2d Cir.
- Mozzochi v. Borden, 959 F.2d 1174, 1992, 2d Cir.
- Dobosz v. Walsh, 892 F.2d 1135, 1989, 2d Cir.
- Musso v. Hourigan, 836 F.2d 736, 1988, 2d Cir.
- Reed v. Town of Branford, 949 F. Supp. 87, 1996, D. Conn.
- Gavlak v. Town of Somers, 267 F. Sup. 2d 214, 2003, D. Conn.
- In re Alexander V., 223 Conn. 557, 613 A.2d 780, 1992
- Warren v. Dwyer, 906 F.2d 70, 1990, 2d Cir.
- Gagnon v. Ball, 696 F.2d 17, 1982, 2d Cir.
- Pitchell v. Callan, 13 F.3d 545, 1994, 2d Cir.
- Miller v. Lovett, 879 F.2d 1066, 1989, 2d Cir.
- Dodd v. City of Norwich, 827 F.2d 1, 1987, 2d Cir.
- Pouncey v. Ryan, 396 F. Supp. 126, 1975, D. Conn.
- O'Neill v. Krzeminski, 839 F.2d 9, 1988, 2d Cir.
- Ruggiero v. Krzeminski, 928 F.2d 558, 1991, 2d Cir.
- State v. Joyce, 229 Conn. 10, 639 A.2d 1007, 1994
- United States v. Newman, 549 F.2d 240, 1977, 2d Cir.
- Alston v. Manson and Haskins v. Manson, 791 F.2d 255, 1986, 2d Cir.
- State v. Anthony, 172 Conn. 172, 374 A.2d 156, 1976
- State v. Roberson, 173 Conn. 102, 376 A.2d 1087, 1977
- Miller v. Angliker, 848 F.2d 1312, 2d Cir.
- Cert. Denied, 488 U.S. 890, 1988
- State v. LaPointe, 237 Conn. 694, 678 A.2d 942, 1996
- State v. DeAngelo, 2000 WL 973104, 2000, Conn. Super.
- DeLaurentis v. City of New Haven, 220 Conn. 225, 597 A.2d 807, 1991
- Delahunty v. Massachusetts Mutual Life Ins. Co., et al., 236 Conn. 582, 674 A.2d 1290, 1996
- Bell v. Board of Education, 55 Conn. App. 400, 739 A.2d 321, 1999
- Zavatsky v. Anderson, 130 F. Supp. 2d 349, 2001, D. Conn.
- Cantoni v. Xerox Corp., 251 Conn. 153, 740 A.2d 796, 1999
- Davis v. Margolis, 215 Conn. 408, 576 A.2d 489, 1990
- DeLeo v. Nusbaum, 263 Conn. 588, 2003
- Drumm v. Brown, 245 Conn. 657, 716 A.2d 50, 1998
- Doe ex rel. A.N. v. East Haven Board of Education, 430 F. Supp. 2d 54
- Doe ex rel. Doe v. Derby Board of Education, 451 F. Supp. 2d 438
- Riccio v. New Haven Board of Education, F. Supp. 2d
- Jennings v. Town of Stratford, 263 F. Supp. 3d 391, 2017, D. Conn.
- New Haven County Bar Association
- Connecticut Bar Association, Federal Practice Section
- Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, Founding Member
- American Bar Association, Criminal Law, Litigation, Individual Rights and Responsibilities Sections
- Association of Trial Lawyers of America, Civil Rights Section, Chair, 1997 to 1998
- Association of Trial Lawyers of America, Employment Rights Section, Member, Executive Committee, 1997 to 1999
- National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Life Member