Friday, January 19, 2018

Media Statements Draw Reprimand

The Nebraska Supreme Court has publicly reprimanded an attorney who had been admitted pro hac vice in a homicide case for violating a court order regarding publicity.

On July 19, 2013, respondent was admitted to the practice of law in the State of Nebraska pro hac vice by order of the county court for Douglas County, Nebraska. Her admission was for appearing in the case of “State v. Anthony Garcia” (Garcia case), docketed in Douglas County Court as case No. CR13-17383 and in the district court for Douglas County as case No. CR13-2322. Anthony Garcia had been charged with committing four homicides. Respondent is also admitted to the practice of law in the State of Illinois. With respect to the Garcia case, at all relevant times, she was engaged in the practice of law in Omaha, Nebraska.

She conditionally admitted the allegations

The amended formal charges state that during the Garcia case, on June 26, 2015, the trial court issued a protective order under seal regarding an unrelated 2007 homicide known as the Blanchard homicide. The protective order stated, “‘[N]o information or knowledge obtained [by the State or Garcia] from the review [of the Blanchard homicide evidence] may be used, disclosed, or referenced during preparation for trial, during trial, or for any other matter in this [Garcia] prosecution.’”

Shortly before trial of the Garcia case was scheduled to commence on April 4, 2016, a suspect was arrested in the Blanchard homicide. After the arrest of the suspect in the Blanchard homicide and prior to the Garcia trial, respondent made numerous statements to news media related to the suspect in the Blanchard homicide indicating that it was the belief of Garcia’s defense team that such suspect was involved in two of the homicides for which Garcia stood charged. Omaha television news station WOWT quoted respondent as saying, “‘By cross-comparing the DNA evidence that they discovered at the . . . Blanchard scene, DNA [of the suspect in the Blanchard homicide] was at both scenes. I don’t see how they’re going to explain the cross-over in the DNA and the existence of both people at both crime scenes.’” Omaha television news station KMTV quoted respondent as saying, “‘This evidence conclusively exonerates . . . Garcia and shows that it cannot be a coincidence the two manners of killing being signature like and the crossover between the two scenes of the same two suspects.’” Respondent also made statements to the Omaha World-Herald newspaper that the defense team hoped that “‘we’ll get a call from the County Attorney’s office that they’re dismissing those charges.’”

Following respondent’s statements to the media, on March 30, 2016, the State moved for sanctions against her. On March 31, respondent and her out-of-state co counsel jointly renewed their motion for admission pro hac vice due to the withdrawal of prior local Nebraska counsel. Following an April 4 hearing, the trial court issued an order nunc pro tunc finding that respondent violated the protective order regarding the Blanchard homicide with her public dissemination of the DNA results in the Blanchard homicide. The trial court further found that respondent’s statements to news media violated Neb. Ct. R. of Prof. Cond. § 3-503.6. The trial court disqualified respondent from continued admission to practice and participate in the Garcia case pro hac vice.

Sanction here

Respondent is publicly reprimanded. If respondent applies to appear pro hac vice in a case pending in the state courts of the State of Nebraska, she must disclose this discipline in any such application.

The case is State ex rel. Disciplinary Counsel  v. Motta and should be available through this link.

The Chicago Tribune reported on federal court discipline involving the attorney last May

In a strong rebuke made public Friday, Motta was suspended from practicing in the Northern District of Illinois for 90 days after she was accused of using profanity in front of the jury, scoffing at judicial rulings and otherwise disrupting the high-profile trial of a woman accused of weapons violations.

In one particularly egregious instance, Motta rolled her eyes and said, "F------ bull----" after U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve overruled an objection, according to a three-page order issued by the federal court's Executive Committee, which ruled that Motta's behavior "prejudiced the administration of justice."

"Not only are witnesses thrown off balance when the opposing lawyer visibly reacts to testimony (such as by rolling her eyes), a lawyer's outright defiance of a trial judge's decision endangers the judge's control of the courtroom," wrote the committee, a disciplinary arm of the court with a revolving panel of judges and the clerk of the court.

In addition to taking the rare step of suspending Motta from practicing for three months, the committee also barred her from participating as lead attorney in any trials for a full year. She must also take ethics and professionalism classes.

An historical reference

Motta's firm was founded by her father-in-law, Robert Motta, a onetime Cook County assistant public defender who gained attention in the 1980s as co-counsel for infamous Chicago serial killer John Wayne Gacy.

(Mike Frisch)

Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink


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