Informal Admonition of Federal Prosecutor After “Repeated, Blatant Violations and Misrepresentations” Called “Ludicrous”

DeptofJusticeIt 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

33 thoughts on “Informal Admonition of Federal Prosecutor After “Repeated, Blatant Violations and Misrepresentations” Called “Ludicrous””

  1. Laserhaas,

    Perry is a creep… The legislature appointed a special investigative force to look into the Corsicana….. The governor fired or asked for the resignation of his three of his appointees…. So the report release was delayed Until the legislature was able to confirm the new appointments… A travesty of justice….

  2. Laser haas,

    Expert witness..Yes…. They are paid pimps…. No problem with that… Lay testimony…. Yes, I have a problem with that…. Reasonable accommodations…. No problem….

  3. That’s what “expert” witnesses do All the Time – anonymously yours.

    And a tragic case we worked on was that of Cameron Todd Willingham.

    Phony forensic guy made up a science that Cameron deliberately set fire to his house and kids. It was exposed – greatly – (even Gov Perry got in on the cover up and quashed a report to be released that would detail the facts)

    and they executed CTW putting him out of his misery.

    It still breaks my heart and pushes my commitments to civility to its limits!

  4. Darren,

    There’s a mutal duty….. But…. Take in consideration…. An attorney cannot do anything to cause harm to a clients case….

    In this instinct case… Paying a witness or agreeing to pay a witness for expected testimony…. Come on… That’s pretty low…. Covering expenses… One thing…. 25k…. I might think it would tend to sway evidence….

  5. Two observations. I wonder what the justicie department would have done if this US Atty had instead used the same type of behavior and it somehow resulted in defendants being acquitted because the atty withheld evidence that was beneficial to the state?

    Also, could a judge just declare the US Attorney to be of such non credibility that he/she dismisses any case brought to the court by this person?

  6. Ross – it is so simple.

    Either

    Department of [In]Justice

    Dept of [IF]Justice

    or

    U.S. Dept of Doing WTF We Want – Justice!

  7. Not kidding: It is time for the Department of Justice to change it’s name. There are real dangers to U.S. citizens thinking this agency’s main goal is justice and that they are there to protect citizens.

    Most regular citizens aren’t attorneys or legal scholars and largely don’t understand who to go to for justice. For example: A private citizen on the receiving end of a program like COINTELPRO being destroyed by the FBI or other agencies – not based on probable cause or any wrongdoing at all – could be harmed even further by trusting the DOJ for assistance. Sometimes the DOJ is an active “accessory before the fact” in destroying evidence and obstructing evidence.

    If that citizen were to file a federal lawsuit against the COINTELPRO program acting as a Pro Se Plaintiff, their adversary (not ally) in court would be a “team” of U.S. Attorneys. There would be a clear conflict of interest in this scenario where a special prosecutor should have been appointed but the DOJ instead obstructs justice and destroys evidence.

    Possible new names: Attorney General’s Department, Prosecution Department or the Government’s Attorney.

    Anyone have some ideas for names?

  8. Linda – the word is “subscribe” and the slang “unsubscribe” is best handled in the bottom of your email notice you receive – there’s the following useful link statement;

    Unsubscribe or change your email settings at Manage Subscriptions.

    which – upon clicking the words “Manage Subscriptions” will take you to your specific WordPress account subscription page

    https://subscribe.wordpress.com

  9. i (and many of my friends) have become very cynical about prosecutors in general.

    We hear stories of prosecutors overcharging, concealing evidence and reneging on deals.

    Bottom line, many people no longer feel that the courts are fair or that justice is well served.

  10. Another example of the “fourth branch” – over which We the People have no control – running amok without regard to anyone’s rights.

  11. Reblogged this on Reality Check and commented:
    Remember, Rome fell because of liars, thieves, and corrupt politicians. In Washington, all the Bureaucrats, Congress and President fit all three of those categories.

  12. Three cheers for Judge Reid Winston. In the District of Columbia, where the United States Attorney’s Office reigns powerful, it takes guts to sanction a prosecutor.

    It took 13 years, long after he left the prosecutor’s office, to sanction Paul Howes. Check out In re: Paul Howes. You can find the reported case on line.

    Gene Shipp does a great job running the Office of Bar Counsel, but there are powerful forces working against prosecutorial sanctions. Most, indeed, nearly all, Assistant U.S. Attorneys are eminently ethical. The few bad apples need to be removed from the barrel forthwith.

  13. Another example of the bar failing to police its own. While this “admonition? Is outrageous, this is a pattern not just with prosecutors but also with lawyers generally. Client who go to a bar grievance committee expecting a fair hearing are being mislead. Even the most blatant failures and most blant violations of the ethical rules are met with a disappointing silence or worse with the client being humiliated. Self regulation is no regulation at all.

    Prosecutors both federal and state are encouraged to break the rules and the law to WIN; not obtain justice but to win. When it is discovered and report, this is the typical result.

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