A federal judge has rejected efforts by Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota and a former prosecutor in his office to dismiss a lawsuit against them that claims they enabled the Suffolk Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to violate the rights of a Manorville horse rescuer.
The suit by Mona Kanciper, head of Manorville-based New York Horse Rescue, is one of three legal actions she started after the SPCA charged her with animal cruelty in 2010.
She was eventually acquitted of those charges, and a misdemeanor charge of endangering the welfare of a child was dismissed by an appellate court.
The charges were the result of what Kanciper has claimed in other litigation against the SPCA was an illegal search of her horse farm based on unfounded claims made by former workers.
In this suit, she accused former Assistant District Attorney Leonard Lato of taking over the case against her after two other prosecutors in the office determined there was no crime. She included Spota in the suit because she said he knew what Lato was doing and did nothing about it.
U.S. District Judge Arthur Spatt ruled last week that the suit, which seeks $5 million, can go forward and that neither Lato nor Spota are protected by prosecutorial immunity.
Prosecutors cannot normally be sued for what they do in court, but Spatt wrote "that absolute immunity does not attach simply because the defendants were prosecutors."
Lato's presence at the search of Kanciper's barn was in an investigative role, and therefore not covered by prosecutorial immunity, Spatt wrote. Likewise, Spatt said the claim against Spota concerns his administrative duties and can't be covered by immunity.
Spatt is a federal judge for the Eastern District of New York, based in Central Islip.
Attorneys for Lato and Spota did not respond to requests for comment.
Steven Hyman, one of Kanciper's attorneys, said his client was pleased that the court allowed the suit to go forward. Hyman said Lato "was essentially a loose cannon" and that Spota did nothing about it.
He said Lato's actions and Spota's inaction "caused great harm to Mona as a result."