Bad Lawyers

Do Prosecutors Who Break the Law Get Off Easy?
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Summary: Prosecutors that don’t play by the rules are not being held accountable for the crimes so some care speaking up and calling for a change.

Glenn Kurtzrock was a homicide prosecutor in Suffolk County, New York. In May 2017, he was caught hiding evidence from the case of a young man charged with first-degree murder. Further investigation determined that Kurtzrock concealed materials from several other cases. He was fired but never faced any criminal charges for his conduct, according to an opinion piece by The New York Times.

  
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Messiah Booker was adamant that he was innocent. He spent 18 months in jail waiting for his trial. His defense lawyer then realized what Kurtzrock had done and turned him in. Hundreds of pages of police records had been altered to remove an abundance of exculpatory information, including another suspect. Kurtzrock even removed the covers of two police notebooks to make the altered documents look like the originals.

The district attorney quickly fired Kurtzrock. The charges were dropped against Booker mid-trial. Booker ended up pleading guilty to attempted robbery. The judge referred to the case as a “travesty.” Even though Kurtzrock violated the 1963 Supreme Court ruling of Brady v. Maryland, which requires prosecutors to reveal any exculpatory evidence to defendants, nothing happened to Kurtzrock.

The district attorney’s office went through the rest of Kurtzrock’s case files and found four other murder convictions that were tainted by his concealment of evidence. All four of those convictions have been overturned. One of the cases involved Shaun Laurence, who had been sentenced for 75 years of life for murder. In his case, Kurtzrock concealed 45 different items of exculpatory evidence during the trial. The judge in this case called Kurtzrock’s misconduct, “absolutely stunning.”

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So with five murder convictions now overturned, Kurtzrock is now working as a private practice defense attorney. He was never suspended, sanctioned, or subject to any punishment for his actions. He is now representing people accused of crimes in the same courthouse he was supposed to be banished from just a year ago. His law firm website even brags about his experience as a “former homicide prosecutor.”

Perhaps even more troubling is that the law makes it pretty much impossible for the victims to sue Kurtzrock. The Supreme Court ruled that individual prosecutors and their offices “immune” from civil rights lawsuits except for in very rare circumstances.



The University of California, Irvine runs the National Registry of Exonerations. They report that “official misconduct” by prosecutors, police, or both was a factor in nearly half of the exonerations since 1989. Only one prosecutor had been jailed for misconduct that led to a wrongful conviction. Ken Anderson served eight days in county jail.

Another case from last June in Massachusetts found that two former assistant attorney generals failed to disclose that a former state lab analyst was addicted to drugs while on the job for years. The 127-page decision by a Massachusetts judge found they committed “fraud on the court” and “egregious misconduct.” Five years of litigation led to the state throwing out over 8,000 drug convictions that had been tainted by laboratory and prosecutorial misconduct. The two former assistant attorney generals were never punished and are still licensed attorneys.

The New York State Senate passed a bill last week that would require reforms to regulate prosecutors’ conduct and law licenses. If the bill gets passed, New York will be the first state to create such conditions. The opinion article believes that an elected district attorney who is unwilling to criminally charge an assistant prosecutor who deliberately violates the law would then justify an attorney general or governor to step in and appoint a special prosecutor. The article contends that there are enough prosecutors committed to fair practice and those that aren’t put a strain on the profession and their colleagues.

Should everyone be accountable for their actions regardless of their position? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

To learn more about others you got away with their crimes, read these articles:

Photo: flickr.com



 

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