High court considers Ga. suit over false testimony

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The Supreme Court wrestled Tuesday with whether government officials are protected from civil lawsuits, even if they tell lies that lead a grand jury to vote for an indictment.

The justices heard arguments in an appeal from Charles Rehberg, an accountant who was indicted three times involving charges that he harassed doctors affiliated with a south Georgia hospital system.

After the third indictment was dismissed even before a trial, Rehberg sued local prosecutors and their investigator, James Paulk. Rehberg argues that he was placed under investigation because of the hospital's political connections and that Paulk's false grand jury testimony led to the indictments.

At issue in the high court is whether grand jury testimony could make a person liable in a civil lawsuit. A key question is whether the justices consider such testimony to be more like an affidavit or a trial. Witnesses are protected from civil lawsuits over what they say in trial testimony.

Paulk argues that the grand jury is part of the judicial process, and testimony there should be afforded the same protection it gets at trial.

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