It has long been maintained by defense counsel that the Justice Department not only protected unethical prosecutors but has a culture encouraging unethical conduct in litigation. This problem is magnified by the tendency of courts and bar committees to look the other way in the face of violations or to confine sanctions to admonitions or verbal criticism. This week criminal defense attorneys are pointing to Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Snyder as an example of the problem. Snyder was accused of extremely serious ethical violations, but only received an admonition on one of the least serious acts of misconduct from the D.C. Bar. This follows a finding by a judge that Synder engaged in a comprehensive pattern of violations and contemptible conduct. The informal admonition if anything will reinforce the view among some federal prosecutors that they are largely immune from sanctions for withholding evidence or engaging in unethical conduct. Defense lawyers are crying foul at the handling of the case by Bar Counsel Wallace Shipp Jr. and his staff at the D.C. Bar. Shipp imposed the lowest possible sanction for what the court called a “history of repeated, blatant Brady violations and misrepresentations.” Additionally, the Justice Department itself has declined to fire Synder.
Synder was sanctioned for telling a judge that he knew of no psychiatric conditions related to a key government witness. However, Synder did have reason to believe that the witness had such conditions and never researched to confirm that the witness had had psychiatric treatment in the past. It is a very common scene where Justice Department attorneys are accused of willful blindness where they ignored indicators and simply do not ask questions or look for answers sought by a court.
The referral to the bar was prompted by a finding that Synder acted unethically in multiple prosecutions. However, somehow Bar Counsel Wallace Shipp Jr. found a way to focus on this one violation and confine punishment to an admonition. It was a result that prompted Paul Riley, who represented a defendant in one of the cases at issue, to publicly denounce the admonition as “ludicrous.”
Even without a complaint filed by other attorneys, Shipp is fully aware of the coverage of the claim of a pattern of violations that go beyond this one insular violation.
Snyder the the lead prosecutor in the trials of Dwight Grandson, Danyelle Adams and Jerome Holliway in 2006. Grandson was accused of a 2004 murder. Adams and Holliway were charged with trying to intimidate a witness who testified against Grandson.
That witness, it turns out, believed that she was going to be paid $25,000 for her testimony. Synder knew that the witness was testifying in expectation of this windfall but never told the defense or the court — a major violation of discovery rules. The Justice Department insisted, when this came out after the trial, that she was never guaranteed the money. Eventually, the Justice Department admitted that Synder’s violations were “non-frivilous” and reduced the sentences of the defendants.
In May 2010, Superior Court Judge Rhonda Reid Winston vacated Grandson’s murder conviction and ordered a new trial. The judge found that Snyder had a “history of repeated, blatant Brady violations and misrepresentations.” She specifically noted that his violations were not limited to the witness payment issue. That is a rare and powerful condemnation of a prosecutor. Yet, the Justice Department did not fire him and Shipp found a way to issue only admonition for a “history of repeated, blatant Brady violations and misrepresentations.”
The withheld information also included Snyder’s failure to disclose that the gun in the case was different from the one that Grandson was known to carry. The judge found that information by reading the grand jury transcript rather than Synder telling her.
Shipp does not even mention these more serious violations in the three-page informal admonition issued against Snyder. After brushing over the record created by the court of a pattern of misconduct, Shipp said that he felt that credit had to be given to Synder because “you took this matter seriously, that you cooperated with our investigation, that you have no prior discipline, that neither the court nor counsel were ultimately misled by your statements and that you accepted responsibility for your misconduct by accepting this Informal Admonition.” He took this matter seriously? Not apparently until a judge uncovered his violations and documented them, at least with regard to the gun evidence.
It is not clear what Shipp believes is required for a formal admonition, or even a suspension, when this is the result after a court finds a prosecutor to be responsible for a “history of repeated, blatant Brady violations and misrepresentations.” What is clear is that the message will not be lost on federal prosecutors that the range of punishment for unethical conduct by the D.C. Bar appears to run from dismissal to informal admonition.
Source: Legal Times