August 28, 2009
No Violation, No Reasoning
A three-judge circuit court dismissed with prejudice bar charges brought against the chief of the capital crimes unit of the Virginia Office of the Attorney General. The ABA Journal had previously reported the charges:
For years, the state attorney general's office in Virginia has distributed letters to former jurors in capital cases, cautioning them against talking to defense lawyers working on appeals.
And the Virginia State Bar wants to put a stop to the letters.
The form letter, which is supplied to local prosecutors, advises jurors that they may be contacted by someone representing the convicted killer who "may try to give the false impression that they are working on behalf" of the prosecution or the courts, the Washington Post reports.
The state bar, which considers the letter to be "offensive," has launched disciplinary proceedings to stop the state from sending out the letter. This is the second such attempt since the letter first became public in 2004.
Defending the letter in her response to the bar's complaint against her, Katherine P. Baldwin Burnett, the assistant attorney general who handles the capital litigation unit, wrote that the juror letter isn't intended "to prevent any juror from speaking to anyone, but simply to inform the juror so he or she would understand the situation accurately."
The Post reports that the letter instructs jurors to demand official identification and further instructs jurors to contact the prosecutor for verification.
The Post notes that it's not clear how many prosecutors send the letter. But the paper quoted retired Fairfax County prosecutor Robert F. Horan, Jr., who defended the letter.
"I don't think there's anything wrong with a prosecutor advising jurors that they can talk or not talk," Horan is quoted saying. "I also think it's all right to say that the questioner doesn't have their best interests at heart."
The order does not provide any analysis or rationale for the decision, but indicates that the dismissal was sought by Special Assistant Bar Counsel. (Mike Frisch)
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