KABOOM! TNT Promotes A Tainted Prosecutor As A Star

coldjustice

And all this time I believed that TNT reality star Kelly Siegler was a real star prosecutor who had actually convicted guilty people while observing the law and professional ethics.

Kaboom!

head_explodes

That was the sound of my brains exploding through the top of my skull, this time because they deserved to. I never learn.

Or is the state of prosecutorial ethics in the United States so wretched that Kelly Siegler is the best ex-prosecutor that TNT could find?

I’ll stick my neck out and say, “no.” I say that even though the state of prosecutorial ethics is pretty terrible. Kelly Siegler left her job as a Harris County, Texas district attorney in 2008 after successfully prosecuting 68 murder trials. In 2013, TNT signed her up to star in a reality show called“Cold Justice,” now in its third season on the cable network.

Good title! A state-court judge recommended a new trial for a Texas inmate named David Temple, prosecuted by Siegler in 2007  for allegedly killing his pregnant wife. He was convicted, but the court says the “legendary prosecutor” illegally withheld critical exculpatory evidence.  Wrote Judge Larry Gist in his opinion calling for a re-trial: “Of enormous significance was Siegler’s testimony at the habeas hearing that apparently favorable evidence did not need to be disclosed if the state did not believe it was true.” 

Now that’s an interesting take on the Brady requirement that the state has to turn over potentially exculpatory evidence! Note that any time a prosecutor believes that exculpatory evidence is “true,” as in “it shows the defendant isn’t guilty,” then the prosecutor is ethically obligated to drop the case and let the accused go.

In his opinion, Gist listed 35 more examples of likely unethical conduct by Siegler.

For example, in the case of Howard Guidry, also convicted of murder, Siegler never revealed to Guidry’s defense lawyers that investigators found fingerprints at the crime scene that did not match Guidry’s precisely where the police thought the killer would have stood as he fired the fatal shots. Those fingerprints belonged to another suspect in the case that actually resembled Guidry. A federal appeals case also ruled that Siegler “admitted unlawful confessions into evidence and used hearsay evidence” to convict Guidry.

Now lawyers are examining all of Siegler’s 68 murder trials to see how many other people she sent to jail while robbing them of a fair trial.

To recap, as of now the only real-life prosecutor who is being represented in the popular culture as a champion of justice  appears to be the worst of the breed: a cheat, an ambitious and ruthless DA who bent the law and risked ruining the lives of innocent citizens to gain convictions even at the risk of allowing the real guilty individuals to escape punishment.

TNT should be fairer to Siegler than she was to the justice system. Since the ex-prosecutor turned reality star—you know, like Donald Trump—insists that she did nothing wrong, the network should forgo firing her until the determination that she violated the ethics rules as well as the law is final. Then it should fire her. It should pull the show from the schedule now, however, pending that determination. Bad prosecutors are a curse on the justice system and do terrible damage to it, the public trust and the innocent people whose lives and reputations they help destroy. Publicizing one of them as a star of the profession warps public values and risks making the system more unjust by rewarding unethical conduct with money and fame.

You know, TNT, there really are ethical ex-prosecutors who followed the rules and sought justice, not just convictions. The question is, would any of those ethical prosecutors be willing to star in a reality show?

____________________

Pointer: Res Ipsa

Facts: Res Ipsa, ABA, ABC

 

53 thoughts on “KABOOM! TNT Promotes A Tainted Prosecutor As A Star

  1. I remember her. Kelly Siegler (a Republican, I’m sorry to say) actually ran in the primaries for County Attorney. She was soundly defeated as her record became known. I met her a couple of times. Grim, determined… and ambitious. It appears she’s found a new focus for her ambitions!

  2. Unfortunately not the first or even the most infamous of the prosecutors to put career or conviction above ethics. I’ve been practicing law for 20 years and been a government official for 10, and folks like that, who abuse their offices and the powers that come with them to position themselves for higher office or a lucrative private job, or maybe just to prove they are always right (I knew at least two prosecutors from wealthy families or with rich spouses for whom it was all about proving the other side wrong), are a blight on the profession. Practicing law is hard enough without dealing with strutting personalities looking for 15 minutes of fame.

  3. I watched it when it started and I saw that it was a reality show to show her pull and conviction, and not a show about discovery/evidence. It looked cherry picked to make her look resolute and quick to convict. I don’t think bringing reality show attitude to the justice system can be anything but a train wreck. TNT has often made/remade shows to chase the lowest common denominator, though their best shows keep a lid on it.

    “Or is the state of prosecutorial ethics in the United States so wretched that Kelly Siegler is the best ex-prosecutor that TNT could find?”
    I actually think that is an (admittedly weak) statement for a the other prosecutors that they didn’t get involved in some cases and a show that begin to look like railroading the justice system, even to a layperson.

  4. You call her, “an ambitious and ruthless DA who bent the law.” But it’s more than that. She didn’t “bend” it; she BROKE it, assuming that the allegations are true. She framed innocent people and should be in prison. Does anybody want to speculate on the odds that she will actually be prosecuted or that, if prosecute, she will serve significant time?

  5. To recap, as of now the only real-life prosecutor who is being represented in the popular culture as a champion of justice appears to be the worst of the breed..

    Not “worst”. Perhaps not even “below average”. There are many, many better. Some are worse though, and I see far too many examples where her behaviour would be unremarkable.

    Prosecutorial Misconduct Statistics:

    In their analysis of the causes of wrongful convictions in cases where the conviction was overturned based on new DNA evidence, researchers found that prosecutorial misconduct was a factor in from 36% to 42% of the convictions.

    Prosecutorial Misconduct Cases:

    In Caldwell v. Mississippi, 472 U.S. 320 (1985), prosecutors misstated the law when arguing to the jury.

    In Mooney v. Holohan, 294 U.S. 103 (1935), prosecutors knowingly used perjured testimony.

    In Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), the prosecutors suppressed evidence favorable to the defendant that might have led to a not guilty verdict.

    In United States v. Schlel, 122 F.3d 944 (11th Cir. 1997), prosecutors ignored their obligation to disclose to the defense special treatment or promises of immunity they had given to a government witness in exchange for testimony against the defendant.

    In United States v. Doyle, 121 F.3d 1078 (7th Cir. 1997), the prosecutor failed to disclose that the government had presented false evidence against the defendant.

    In United States v. Alzate, 47 F.3d 1103 (11th Cir. 1995), the prosecutor made inflammatory, racially based remarks to the jury about the accused.

    In United States v. Cannon, 88 F.3d 1495 (8th Cir. 1996), the prosecution presented perjured testimony to the grand jury.

    In United States v. Cuffie, 80 F.3d 514 (D.C. Cir. 1996), the prosecutor failed to disclose that the government’s witness lied in earlier proceedings involving the crime that was the subject of the prosecution.

    In United States v. Duke, 50 F.3d 571 (8th Cir. 1995), the prosecutor failed to disclose that a government witness had a criminal record.

    In United States v. Horn, 811 F. Supp. 739 (D.N.H. 1992), the prosecution surreptitiously acquired the defense attorney’s work product.

    In United States v. Roberts, 481 F. Supp. 1385 (C.D. Cal. 1980), the prosecutor misstated the law to the grand jury.
    http://californiainnocenceproject.org/issues-we-face/prosecutorial-misconduct/

    • There aren’t that many prosecutors who engage in misconduct in multiple cases. I’d say her stated belief that Brady doesn’t mean what is says it does puts her near the bottom. Maybe she’s the worst possible female prosecutor deemed comely enough to carry a regular show.

      • There aren’t that many prosecutors who engage in misconduct in multiple cases.

        My only experience with one was an Orange County one who basically blackmailed a plea bargain out of someone innocent by threatening to go after their kids,

        I was Skyping with the suspect at the time of the alleged crime (not that a crime actually occurred). The suspect pleaded with me not to testify – 1 year in jail was worth protecting their kids from this persecutor. It’s just too easy for them to manufacture cases against juveniles.

        • I know of a case where the prosecutor admitted to the defense attorney that they knew the defendant was innocent. They were going after him because they could make the charges stick anyway and the guilty party had fled to parts unknown. It was an election year and they needed convictions, but they were going to cut him a good plea bargain…that included a lifetime on the sex offender registry. He and his attorney felt he had no choice but to take the bargain. After hearing things like this in several states, I am under the impression that this is sort of thing is the rule for prosecutors, not the exception.

          From what I have been told by attorneys (Please tell me this isn’t actually true, Jack), it is caused by the logic taught in law schools. It seems that prosecutors begin with the idea that the suspect is guilty and than try to make the evidence show that the suspect is guilty. Of course, you can ALWAYS make the evidence show that the suspect is guilty. So prosecutors always believe the suspect is guilty and too many will bend the rules rather than let a ‘guilty’ suspect go free (“Well, that evidence can’t be reliable because then the suspect isn’t guilty. Since he IS Guilty, the evidence must be the problem, ignore it”).

      • That reminds me of a municipal attorney I dealt with years ago while writing a story. A village trustee came to me and told me that the village board was regularly discussing public business during closed door sessions. When interviewing the village’s attorney, her “reading” of Open Meetings Law has such a shockingly broad reach, (so thought I and the head of New York’s Committee on Open Government) had it had tentacles, a colossal squid would have been envious.
        Not innocent lives on the line, but important nonetheless. In both cases, it seems the ethical considerations of their professions weren’t of interest.

      • Evidence please? It seems that whenever we find out about misconduct by a specific prosecutor in a specific case, there’s a follow up about misconduct in prior cases that went unpunished. Maybe I’m remembering wrong, can you back that up?

        • I stated that wrong. Let me rephrase: a lot of prosecutors will make a bad call or get overzealous in a particular case without being routinely unethical. This one sounds like just a bad prosecutor. But you are right: when something like withheld Brady material is shown to have occurred, it is often discovered that the prosecutor had some “bad habits.” That’s why they are re-opening all of her cases. In short, I was flip and shouldn’t have been. The correction is appreciated.

          See? i’ve missed you.

          • That I can agree with.

            Don’t expect me back long term. There’s almost no work I can do over the next few days due to some scheduling issues. I’m deep in the weeds for my current job, so I don’t normally have the breaks during work hours, and need the nonthinking time after work. Posting here requires much thought.

  6. Kelly has never – and I can safely say will never – cheated to win. She has never needed to. When Kelly tackles a prosecution, she does so with the type of preparation and ethical integrity we all wish we had. Just because Gist disagrees doesn’t make him right. Besides, not even the he could state the evidence withheld should have been shared.

    Also, as a prosecutor, Kelly has the right to determine what is Brady material, which can be interpreted in a variety of ways depending on attorneys and judges, and she made a judgment call based on what she knew to be true. She did not hide any exculpatory evidence. Every lead was investigated and dismissed when no pertinent evidence was found to support alternative theories.

    By the way, the first television show was not her idea. It was brought to her by television executives, not the other way around. She did not use this case, or any other, to garner attention.

    Kelly convinced a judge and jury, along with most of the United States, of Temple’s guilt because he’s guilty, not because of some rivalry or hidden evidence. She works daily to do what’s right. The rest of the justice system needs to pay attention.

    • “Also, as a prosecutor, Kelly has the right to determine what is Brady material, which can be interpreted in a variety of ways depending on attorneys and judges, and she made a judgment call based on what she knew to be true.”

      No, she doesn’t. She doesn’t have the right to determine that Brady material isn’t Brady material, and in the interest of due process and fair trials, the benefit of any doubt point to disclosure.

      • In United States v. Bagley, the Court explained: “Thus, the prosecutor is not required to deliver his entire file to defense counsel, but only to disclose evidence favorable to the accused that, if suppressed, would deprive the defendant of a fair trial.”

        Neither Temple or Guidry were denied a fair trial. They were proven guilty. If they want to blame someone, they should look at their defense team.

        • Not responsive. A prosecutor doesn’t have to deliver the whole file, just anything the defendant might use to show innocence. The defense gets to decide what that is, not the prosecution. The concept is “confirmation bias.” Look it up.

            • You can’t produce reasonable doubt with evidence that is withheld by the prosecution. If it’s not going to help the defense, then there is no reason not to provide it. You are dead, dead wrong, as well a ignorant. No prosecutor can treat Brady that way. She is lucky she wasn’t disbarred.

              • It is you, sir, who is ignorant. If the defense team is not going to investigate what it is given, it is their fault, not the prosecution’s. Temple’s lawyers knew of the other suspects and did nothing with the information.

                Kelly did her job. She put the bad guy in prison. Get over it.

                • 1. You’re an idiot. You are making wild pronouncements about something you know nothing about, before those who do know about it, and are you too dumb to shut up and learn something. That’s the water mark of a cretin, and one who will stay that way.

                  2. You don’t get to call me ignorant on this blog, especially on this topic, which is prosecutor ethics (which I teach), legal ethics, which I make my living practicing, law,, criminal law, which was my specialty which is my degree, and Brady, as I was a prosecutor.

                  3. Kelly’s job is to follow the law, first and above all. She didn’t.

                  4. The quality of Temple’s lawyers is irrelevant to Kelly’s Brady violation.

                  You’re banned. You aren’t even worthy of a warning. You lower the IQ on the blog comments section just by appearing on it. Go watch Matlock.

    • Your joking right. Even a lay person can tell that she is trying to be above the law. I won’t bother writing more as it’s clear your head is in the same place as hers. 🙂

  7. NOTICE: Chandra Rice is banned. I would have tolerated her fact-free defense of the unethical prosecutor, but she offered no authority or facts, and was ignorant, cheeky and insulting. Every now and then a total dolt slips thru the net. Sorry.

    Signature significance: her rejoinder to being banned was “be that way.” I think she is 14.

    • Form her first comment, I thought it looked like Chandra Rice had an undisclosed personal relationship with Kelly Siegler, so I did a quick Google search.

      From looking at Chandra Rice’s public facebook page, it’s more like she’s a benign stalker with multiple posts every day about Cold Justice…going back years. She may have reposted every single still or video ever released for promoting the show.

      There’s no arguing with crazy.

      • Chandra has been Kelly’s most ardent supporter for almost 20 years, which gives her an insight none of you possess. Beyond that, their personal relationship is none of your business. I find your insults laughable, especially considering how hatefully you treated her.

        • Uh…it became our interest when Chandra showed up and started defending Kelly. That’s a basic conflict of interest ethical issue. Since you know of Chandra and Kelly’s relationship, would you like to disclose your relationship to the people mentioned?

          • I also am duly corrected on my suggestion of benign stalker.

            I do wonder what kind of person, other than a close friend, family member, co-worker, or significant other, would be an ardent supporter of someone with a civil service job. A lack of disclosure of such a relationship is a clear breach of ethics that anyone who has been close to a prosecutor for 20 years would likely know.

  8. I just watched Kelly Siegler on the to show 48 hours. I can’t believe that she thinks she is not only above the law but I believe that she thinks she is above God.
    She needs to be put in prison not put on reality Tv shows.
    How she was able to keep her job for so long is just ridiculous.
    How does she sleep at night?!

    • She sleeps just fine because she knows she has done nothing wrong. She sleeps just fine because she knows she has God’s blessings on her life and her work. She sleeps just fine because she knows she’s trying to make a positive difference in the world. Can you say the same?

      • You call violating Brady requirements “nothing wrong”? The profession disagrees. Prosecutors who try to convict innocent people are not making a positive contribution, and what they are trying to do is irrelevant. Your comment is also a cheap shot. Jenni’s life is not at issue here, and she doesn’t have to meet any standards at all to correctly conclude that the ex-prosecutor is no star.

        • Kelly did not violate Brady. Your assertions leave me in doubt on whether you’ve actually read and understood the findings against Kelly. I’ve also wondered if Gist was paying attention to the evidence being presented to him (finding 21 especially).

          As for Jenni, I only asked of her a question.

          • 1. Your comment makes me wonder if you understand Brady. Simple Justice was right on the nose:

            But Siegler wasn’t without an explanation for her conduct. There’s always a good excuse.

            Siegler testified in the habeas hearing that potential exculpatory evidence didn’t need to be disclosed if prosecutors “did not believe it was true,” according to the findings.

            This is something of a defining problem with Brady. If we assume, as we must, that the prosecution believes that the defendant committed the crime, since they wouldn’t prosecute him otherwise, then evidence that tends to support innocence isn’t likely to be believed to be true. Or, to be more blunt, exculpatory evidence might let a guilty man go free, and should a prosecutor who sincerely believes the defendant guilty enable such an outcome?

            The answer is clear and certain. Yes. First, because that’s the law, and second, because prosecutors aren’t magical beings whose beliefs are more important than the truth. The trite expression is that the prosecutor’s function is to do justice, not convict. Just to remind those of you who adore parity more than logic, the defense’s job is to defend, not to do justice. The functions are different, even if you don’t think they should be.

            But some prosecutors believe in their own beliefs a little too much, sometimes guided by their zeal to win, their ego, their desire to be . . . on TV. So did Kelly Siegler tempt fate when she proclaimed Sebesta’s misconduct to be the worst she’d ever seen?

            I’m not sure if Siegler’s sins rise to the level of Sebesta’s. He knowingly sent an innocent man to death row. Siegler probably believes in Temple’s guilt, but she let bias blind her.

            Who knows if David Temple is innocent or guilty. A man who cheats on his pregnant wife isn’t a sympathetic defendant.

            But I know this: good prosecutors don’t have to cheat to win.

            Her excuse, also quoted in my post, is pretty damning. A prosecutor doesn’t have to believe evidence for it to meed Brady requirements. No court has agreed with that dodge. It’s an excuse, and it may work sometimes, but its still withholding Brady evidence.

            2. You like deceit, apparently, since you use it yourself. That wasn’t “only” a question, and you know it. It was a pointed rhetorical question that suggests, and was intended to suggest, that only someone who meets some predetermined level of virtue has standing to criticize the conduct of another.

            • Before Gist, more courts than you have fingers has agreed with Kelly on this case. She did not violate Brady. Read the rebuttal that Roe Wilson wrote. It’s 80 pages and deconstructs the findings. Maybe then you’ll understand why you’re wrong.

              Do not attempt to put words in my mouth. If I had wanted to belittle or cajole Jenni, I would have done so myself.

              • I was a prosecutor, and I studied prosecutorial ethics. Prosecutors should share all information that have any possibility of helping the defense. Her statement that she didn’t share evidence because she didn’t believe it is a smoking gun. A prosecutor who would make such a statement inevitably will violate Brady. That’s a rationalization for, as Scott says, cheating. Right here in DC, the bar ruled that it’s still unethical to withhold such evidence even if it wouldn’t make any difference at all in the case.

                “She sleeps just fine because she knows she’s trying to make a positive difference in the world. Can you say the same?” Says what it says, and I accurately represented it. Her efforts and sleeping ability are irrelevant, and you implied otherwise. I repeat: it’s a cheap shot, and attacking the speaker rather than the position. Cut it out.

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