Friday, September 3, 2010

No Discipline On Witness Coaching Charges

The web page of the Virginia State Bar reports an order of the Circuit Court for the County of York, City of Poquoson, dismissing disciplinary charges against an attorney. The three-judge court found there was

no evidence that the Respondent coached, manipulated, prompted or prosecuted based on untruthful testimony, and [the court] thus struck each of the allegations of misconduct made by the Bar.

The accused is the Commonwealth's Attorney for the county. 

Some details from the Virginia Law Weekly:

The ruling ends what had been scheduled as a three-day hearing at the York County courthouse. A similar hearing had been scheduled in August for [the attorney's] former assistant...[They] had been accused of coaching a co-defendant to present more credible testimony against Darryl Atkins, who was ultimately convicted of the robbery and murder of a serviceman.

The accusations against [the attorneys] became a focal point for criminal defense lawyers who complained the VSB often overlooked complaints of prosecutorial misconduct.

The New York Times had this story about the Atkins prosecution.

A commentary on the broader implications of the matter from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference is linked here. (Mike Frisch)

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We have so few cases on the topic of witness coaching. Do we know what the lawyer said/did in this case? The opinion isn't particularly enlightening.

Posted by: john steele | Sep 3, 2010 4:32:12 PM


I've taken a cursory look. It appears that the tape recorder was turned off for the "prep" at issue and turned back on after the witness got fed the story. I suspect the participants differ on what was said off the tape. Absent a tape, these cases are near impossible to prove in a disciplinary proceeding because the precise tone, wording and sequencing of questions is crucial to proving the violation.


Posted by: Mike Frisch | Sep 3, 2010 5:56:57 PM


Thanks, and I agree that absent grotesque suborning of perjury, it's all about the context, tone, etc.

Posted by: john steele | Sep 4, 2010 11:28:30 AM

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