Saturday, September 26, 2015

Death Penalty Defense Attorney Admonished has the story of a misconduct finding in a disciplinary case brought against a career public interest attorney for lack of diligence in a case she won!

Rare that.

The story

A disciplinary panel of the North Carolina State Bar on Friday admonished a lawyer who participated in the first case to be heard under the Racial Justice Act.

 Cassandra Stubbs was part of a team of lawyers who represented Marcus Robinson, whose death sentence was commuted in 2012 after a judge determined race played a factor in how jurors were selected for Robinson's 1994 murder trial.
The State Bar responded to an anonymous complaint filed against Stubbs by charging her in March with providing inaccurate information to the judge in Robinson's hearing in violation of the rules of professional conduct for attorneys.
The Racial Justice Act, which state lawmakers repealed in 2013, allowed death row inmates to challenge their sentences by using statistical evidence to show racial bias during their trials. In Robinson's case, Stubbs and other attorneys gathered affidavits from blacks who were excluded from the jury, but the State Bar alleged that information contained in two affidavits didn't jibe with other evidence in the case and that Stubbs didn't try to correct them before submitting them as evidence.
The disciplinary panel recently determined that Stubbs had violated the rules of conduct, and the three members on Friday weighed the punishment she should receive.
In tearful testimony, Stubbs said "I respectfully disagree" with the State Bar's allegations and panel's ruling, noting that she was on maternity leave at the time the affidavits were drafted and simply reviewed them.
She said the charges against her have been "totally devastating," saying that she has built her legal career on hard work and integrity.

The charges go to "things that are at the heart of what I consider to be who I am as a person and who I am as a lawyer," she said. "This process has been really difficult for me because it's so antithetical to the kind of lawyer that I want to be and try hard to be."

 Superior Court Judge Greg Weeks said the questionable affidavits played no role in his decision to overturn Robinson's death sentence.
Weeks praised Stubbs' work in a letter to the disciplinary panel, as did dozens of other defense lawyers, some of whom attended Friday's hearing.

"Cassie is one of the most diligent attorneys I know," attorney Brian Stull said.

 "I consider her to be one of the best of the best. Her ethics are impeccable. She's an absolute beacon of integrity," attorney Jay Ferguson said.
"The first thing I thought of when I read those letters is how many letters would I get, and I can tell you I wouldn't get 59," said Donald Prentiss, chairman of the disciplinary panel.
After more than an hour of deliberation, the panel decided to hand out the lowest possible level of discipline by formally admonishing Stubbs for her actions.
Stubbs' lawyers had pushed for a simple warning to her and now must decide whether to appeal the discipline.
Gretchen Engle, another attorney for Robinson, faces similar allegations, but the State Bar hasn't heard her case yet.
The news report also links to a video of the sanction phase of the disciplinary hearing.
The testimony of the accused attorney takes approximately the first hour. After watching her testify, my view that this prosecution (based on an anonymous complaint) never should have been brought is strongly reinforced. 
The attorney was accused of "lack of diligence" because two inaccurate affidavits were filed in a case. The judge concluded that the affidavits were immaterial. There was never even a hint of suggestion that the attorney engaged in knowing misconduct.
If an attorney violated ethics rules every time an affidavit was deemed to be inaccurate, we would be a country full of admonished lawyers. 
WRAL also reported that charges against a second attorney were not sustained. And, in the video linked to that story, it  is noted that prosecutors in the underlying case also submitted inaccurate affidavits (the exact charges brought against the defense attorneys) but have not been prosecuted by the State Bar.
How interesting.


Our prior coverage is linked here and  here. (Mike Frisch)

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