In 2011, a King County murder conviction was thrown out by the Washington Supreme Court because the prosecutor in the case, James Konat, had used racially charged language to taint the jury’s view of African-American witnesses.
In an 8-1 ruling, the Supreme Court found that Konat had “made a blatant and inappropriate appeal to racial prejudice and undermined the credibility of African-American witnesses based on their race…” using references to the “PO-leese” and street “code” in his questioning of the witnesses. In his closing argument he suggested, “the code is black folk don’t testify against black folk. You don’t snitch to the police.”
His office fought the appeal and defended Konat’s conduct until after the Supreme Court handed down its decision, at which point the King County District Attorney rebuked his deputy in the media.
Nonetheless, Konat – who had worked at the office for 18 years – kept his job and was not formally disciplined by the office. He resigned early the following year.
Now, the King County District Attorneys Office is partnering with the University of Washington School of Law to host a clinic for law students who will handle the prosecution of low-level crimes. The third-year students will be supervised by a senior deputy prosecutor (the title that Konat held).
A student of UW has written a blog post about the prospect, which raises ethical considerations including whether it is appropriate to house a training clinic at a prosecutor’s office that tolerated a senior prosecutor’s “racist arguments”.Historically, law school clinics have a two-fold purpose: to serve unmet needs in local communities and to better equip students to practice law in the future… There is no unmet need for prosecutors in King County, but there is a serious need for defenders. Despite the requests of students, UW Law administrators have yet to implement a legal defense clinic. Instead, they are choosing to partner with KCPO, an office whose own staff members have been cited for using racially biased arguments.
The law school is offering the clinic for the first time as a course for the 2013-2014 academic year. Details of the course are available here.