The family of former judge and Denver City Attorney Larry Manzanares announced their intention to sue Jefferson County district attorney, Scott W. Storey, his deputy and an investigator for contributing to her husband’s death. It is a case that raises disturbing questions over the causes of suicide and the increasing tendency of prosecutors to play to the media in high-profile cases.
Manzanares was a popular judge and figure in Denver when his world came crashing down with an indictment over a computer and alleged child pornography. His widow, Peggy Montaño, claims that Storey gleefully pursued the sensational case and pushed his husband into suicidal despair. Previously, an ethics complaint against Storey was dismissed by the Colorado Supreme Court’s Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel.
From the start, Manzanares had a curious defense to the possession of a court laptop found in his possession. He claimed that had bought the computer for $300 from a man near county building and panicked after software on the laptop told him that it was state property. Why an experienced lawyer and judge would panic over such news is a bit hard to understand — almost as hard as buying a laptop from some stranger when you can pick up a new laptop at relatively low price.
Storey proceeded, however, to maximize his own exposure in the media by holding a large press conference and giving out copies of the 80-page arrest affidavit, including the pornography allegations. On June 22, Mr. Manzanares, 50, shot and killed himself under a bridge in Denver. The lawsuit will seek $10 million in damages., which would be donated to a Latino college fund.
The odds are against her prevailing. Suicide is rarely actionable in such cases due to the uncertainty of causation — both factual and legal. What causes someone to commit suicide is quite uncertain and, as a general matter, people are not liable for such an extreme reaction to their lawful conduct. In this case, Storey may have flogged the story — and Manzanares — for his own personal benefit. However, he is allowed to do so within limits and appears to be within those ample limits.
Suicide cases that prevail in torts generally involve product liability over drugs or malpractice allegations against doctors or hospitals. The latter example is seen in the Dodson case out of South Dakota also posted today.
For the Denver story, click here