Lindsey Scott, a former Marine whose nationally publicized 1983 conviction for rape and attempted murder was subsequently overturned, has settled a $1.5 million malpractice suit against his former attorney.
Scott and lawyer Ervan Kuhnke Jr., of Dumfries, agreed last week not to discuss the terms of the settlement, which ends a suit filed Jan. 13 in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. Sources said Scott will receive somewhat less than $100,000, the maximum amount covered by Kuhnke's malpractice insurance.
Kuhnke represented Scott, 34, during the former Marine's 1983 court-martial at Quantico Marine Base, where he was stationed. Initially, Scott was found guilty of the April 1983 assault on a fellow Marine's wife and sentenced to 30 years of hard labor. He served almost four years in a federal penitentiary.
Kuhnke declined to comment yesterday on the settlement and Scott, who lives in Louisville, could not be reached.
The court-martial drew national attention, in part because racism was alleged as a motive for the military prosecution. Civil-rights groups said military investigators singled out Scott, who is black, prematurely because they were eager to make an arrest in the assault of a white person.
In 1987, the nation's highest military court overturned his conviction, saying he had received an incompetent defense.
According to testimony during Scott's appeal, Kuhnke did not conduct thorough interviews with government witnesses before he questioned them on the stand. As a result, his cross-examination tended to elicit testimony that seemed damaging to his client.
Kunhke, who is still practicing law in Dumfries, also promised in his opening statement that he would establish an alibi for Scott, and such an alibi never emerged from witnesses' testimony, appeal records said. He appeared to compound the damage in his closing statement, according to testimony, saying, "I admit the defense did not prove an ironclad alibi case . . . . But that's not my burden."
The Marines opted to retry the case in 1988, and a second military jury acquitted Scott of all charges. Scott initially filed a $1 million suit against Kunhke in Prince William County Circuit Court, but that suit was dismissed at the request of Scott's attorney in July 1989. Scott then filed the $1.5 million claim in federal court.
Under the terms of the settlement, U.S. District Judge James Cacheris dismissed the case with prejudice, which means the matter cannot be brought up again.
Scott's Louisville attorney, Oliver H. Barber Jr., said "I'm very pleased" with the settlement, in part because he was not sure the former Marine could have gone through with the trauma of another trial.
Kuhnke's lawyers threatened to "retry the rape within the civil case."
Genetic tests of semen taken from the victim's clothing failed to establish Scott's innocence or guilt. The prosecution fell one vote short of conviction in the second court-martial. Military juries, unlike those in civilian courts, can convict by a two-thirds ratio rather than require a unanimous vote.