Some of us have been critical of the changes brought by State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby in the death of Freddie Gray. As we have seen in past high-profile cases, the prosecutors over charged the case against various defendants with very little evidence. The result has been a series of acquittals. Now, my GWU colleague Professor John Banzhaf III has taken that controversy to a new level with the filing of complaints seeking disbarment with the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission against Mosby, Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow and Deputy State’s Attorney Janice Bledsoe. He alleges that these prosecutors knowingly brought charges without a sufficient evidentiary basis.
Gray, 25, suffered a spinal injury in a ride in a police van after his arrest in April 2015. He died a week later. Mosby and her staff secured charges against six police officers — three have been acquitted in trials before Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams. Williams has found insufficient evidence in past cases — a view shared by some commentators including myself.
Professor Banzhaf believes that the lack of probable cause is obvious but simply ignored by the prosecutors. His earlier complaint against Mosby called her a “runaway prosecutor.” He accused her of yielding to the demands of the mob rather than serving the interests of justice.
Banzhaf often includes students in his litigation, which has included groundbreaking reforms in combating tobacco use. His class on litigation is called “Sue the Bastards.” He is the founder of a smoking pressure group, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH). Even as a law student, Banzhaf was a fierce advocate. While still a student at Columbia Law School, Banzhaf wrote a note on copyrighting computer and software programs. It had never been done despite requests. While still a student, Banzhaf sought to register copyrights on two programs he had written. He became in 1964 the first person to register such copyrights. He later testified in Congress on the issue. Not a bad start for a law student.
Despite my respect for such public interest successes and my agreement on the lack of evidence in these cases, I remain skeptical about the chances of the bar complaints. I previously applauded bar actions against abusive prosecutors like Mike Nifong from the infamous Duke Lacrosse case. However, courts and bars afford considerable leeway in balancing evidence to support an indictment. Notably, Nifong was guilty of an array of unethical acts related to his public statements and conduct. The odds heavily favor the prosecutors in these complaints in my view.
What do you think?