George Washington Law School Professor John F. Banzhaf III has filed an ethics complaint against State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby with Maryland’s Attorney Grievance Commission. Banzhaf accuses Mosby in his 10-page complaint of breaching Maryland’s rules of professional conduct for lawyers, which requires that a prosecutor refrain from prosecuting a charge unless it is supported by probable cause, in her conflicted and incompetent prosecution of six police officers involved in the arrest of Freddie Gray. The complaint also flags Mosby’s improper use of public statements to bias the administration of justice.
Of course he is right, as I have repeatedly explained here, here, here, here, and here. I assume there have been other complaints before this one, but he has made the issue a high profile one, and that’s excellent news.
Mosby has earned the Mike NiFong treatment: the unethical prosecutor in the Duke Lacrosse rape case was disbarred, briefly jailed, and sued. She is black, female, and a Democrat, and NiFong remains one of the very, very few prosecutors to be punished significantly for unethical conduct. I will be amazed if the commission does anything momentous or sufficient to discourage grandstanding prosecutors like Mosby in the future, even though such prosecutors are willing to ruin lives for political gain.
I hope I am wrong.
(But I’m not.)
Mosby in 2015, ruining lives, pandering to the mob, and undermining justice…
The third (of six) indicted Baltimore police officer charged in the death of Freddie Gray was acquitted last week, and how the rest of the trials, if they even occur, will play out is now a foregone conclusion. To be fair, this was a forgone conclusion from that moment that Baltimore City Attorney Marilyn Mosby charged the officers a year ago without sufficient justification beyond her own political ambitions, those of her husband (who is now running for mayor), racial bias and a desire to mollify rioters. Most commentators believed the charges were premature, rushed to avoid civic unrest. To say that is really to say that she allowed a mob to dictate to law enforcement. This was unethical, dangerous and despicable then, and remains so today.
If officer Caesar R. Goodson Jr., who drove the police transport van in which Gray suffered the spinal cord injury that killed him, could not be found guilty of intentionally killing Freddie Gray, nobody can. Says the New York Times,
“His acquittal on seven counts leaves the state without any convictions after three trials, in one of the nation’s most closely watched police misconduct cases — and continues to leave open the question of what, exactly, happened to Mr. Gray inside the van….Judge Barry G. Williams, who presided over the Goodson trial, issued the verdicts to a hushed, packed courtroom. He drew no conclusions about exactly when during the van ride Mr. Gray got hurt, saying there were several “equally plausible scenarios.” And he rejected the state’s contention that the officer had given Mr. Gray an intentional “rough ride” and knowingly endangered him by failing to buckle him into the van or provide medical help.”
The prosecutor isn’t supposed to ruin the lives and careers of presumptively innocent law enforcement officials to try to find out what happened to Freddie Gray. The prosecutor is supposed to investigate until sufficient evidence tells her that a crime was committed, and the she has enough of that evidence to get a legitimate conviction. The three trials have shown that such evidence either doesn’t exist, or was never found. No, we don’t know what killed Freddie Gray, and that’s called “reasonable doubt.” Continue reading
In a legal ethics seminar I taught this week for government attorneys, the vast majority of them voted that Marilyn Mosby’s vainglorious announcement of charges against six officers in the death of Freddie Gray was prosecutorial abuse, and a blatant violation of professional ethics rule 3.8, which directs that (this is the Maryland version)…
The prosecutor in a criminal case shall:
(a) refrain from prosecuting a charge that the prosecutor knows is not supported by probable cause;
(e) except for statements that are necessary to inform the public of the nature and extent of the prosecutor’s action and that serve a legitimate law enforcement purpose, refrain from making extrajudicial comments that have a substantial likelihood of heightening public condemnation of the accused and exercise reasonable care to prevent an employee or other person under the control of the prosecutor in a criminal case from making an extrajudicial statement that the prosecutor would be prohibited from making under Rule 3.6 or this Rule.
Of course it was a breach of ethics, and an outrageous one. Her statement, which I discussed here, not only overstated her justification for bringing the charges, which were rushed and announced before a careful investigation was completed, it also stated that the officers were guilty, and worse, that the charges were being brought because the demonstrating and rioting protesters has demanded it. Mosby’s words suggested that she stood with the mob. Continue reading
State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced today that the six Baltimore police officers involved in the arrest and subsequent death of Freddie Gray have been charged with criminal charges second-degree murder, manslaughter, second-degree assault, vehicular manslaughter , and misconduct in office. I have no comment on that: I haven’t seen the evidence. I will assume the charges are justified base on what evidence there is.
Nonetheless, Mosby’s announcement and related statements from the steps of Baltimore’s War Memorial Building were unethical, and indeed constituted a professional ethics breach:
- Mosby said she told Gray’s family that “no one is above the law and I would pursue justice upon their behalf.” Unethical. Her client isn’t the family. Her client is the state. If the evidence appears too weak to get a conviction based on any new revelations, her duty to her client, which only requires justice, not justice for any party, would be to drop the case. Telling the family that she is working “on their behalf” is either a lie, or, if true, unethical. She is not their lawyer or the victim’s lawyer.
- “I heard your call for ‘no justice, no peace,'” she said. “Your peace is sincerely needed as I work to deliver justice on behalf of this young man.”
Ugh. Again the “on behalf of” misstatement. Worse, though, is “I heard your call for ‘no justice, no peace.” What are we to take from this statement, other than the disgraceful admission that the indictment is in response to mob violence and threats of more? She may not say that. By saying it, she has undermined the rule of law. Prosecutors must not”hear” demands that a citizen be prosecuted, or not prosecuted. They are ethically obligated to ignore them, and do what the evidence dictates.
The demonstrators obviously got her meaning. Desmond Taylor, 29, shouted to the crowd, “This day means that your actions bring consequences in Baltimore City.”
Imagine what else riots and arson might bring! Continue reading