Coello v. DiLeo, No. 21-2112 (3d Cir. 2022)Annotate this Case
Messina filed suit, accusing Coello—who was dating Messina’s former boyfriend— of harassment. Coello pled not guilty and the charge was dismissed. Subsequently, private attorney Estabrooks requested an appointment to prosecute Messina’s complaint. New Jersey Court Rules permit courts to appoint a “private prosecutor to represent the State in cases involving cross-complaints.” This 2007 prosecution did not involve a cross-complaint and Estabrooks did not disclose that she was also representing Messina in custody and other civil actions against Coello’s boyfriend. Without recording any findings as to the need for a private prosecutor or the suitability of Estabrooks, Municipal Judge DiLeo approved her application. Irregularities continued at trial and post-conviction. Without addressing Coello’s lack of representation or her evidence, DiLeo reinstated her jail term based on a letter from Estabrooks.
In 2016, a New Jersey state court vacated Coello's harassment conviction. The prosecution, by then familiar with allegations of judicial misconduct against DiLeo, did not oppose the motion.
In 2020, Coello filed this federal civil rights action against Estabrooks, DiLeo, and municipal defendants. The district court dismissed most of her claims as untimely, reasoning that at the time of her trial and sentencing, Coello had reason to know of her alleged injuries. The Third Circuit reversed the dismissal, citing the special timeliness rules governing her precise claims. Under Heck v. Humphrey, her claims all imply the invalidity of her criminal prosecution; she could not file suit until her conviction was vacated