Assistant U.S. Attorney Russell Stoddard has received a tongue-lashing from U.S. District Court Judge Marcia Howard for misrepresenting the changes that he made to an indictment just one week before trial.
The Florida Times-Union reports that Stoddard was prosecuting a case involving the alleged conspiracy of three co-defendants to illegally export firearms from Jacksonville, FL into Haiti. On May 16, Judge Howard received a superseding indictment from Stoddard in her chambers. It was one week before trial and the jury pool had already been selected. Stoddard represented that only minor date changes were made to the original indictment and that defense counsel agreed that it would not affect the trial.
However, when the defendant was to be rearraigned the following day, the presiding judge found a number of changes in the new indictment and notified the public defender working on the case. Soon after, the public defender explained to Judge Howard that Stoddard had “convinced her the superseding indictment included only minor date changes” and she took him at his word, failing to review the indictment until she was contacted by the judge presiding over the rearraignment.
Stoddard then “unabashedly” admitted that he added two new overt acts (acts that help establish the defendant’s criminal intent) but still failed to alert Judge Howard to other changes and deletions he had made. The Assistant U.S. Attorney told the judge that he didn’t think that he had an ethical obligation to advise the defendant’s lawyer of the additions he had made, which were to do with the defendant’s alleged travel to Haiti. Judge Howard responded by continuing the trial date, and blasted Stoddard in the order:Of equal concern is Mr. Stoddard’s repeated representation to the court during the status conference that only the dates and two overt acts changed. In truth, changes were made throughout the superseding indictment not only in the description of the manner and means, but in a substantial majority of the overt acts… Counsel’s lack of candor to the court and to his opposing counsel falls below the standard of professionalism demonstrated by members of the bar of this court. It is the court’s expectation that such actions will not be repeated.
In the same order, Judge Howard referred to a previous incident in which she was “forced to address Stoddard’s failure to give other counsel and the court ‘full, accurate information'” in a restitution hearing in 2009.
Earlier in May, Judge Howard had rebuked Stoddard for refusing to apologize to three men that he prosecuted in a honey smuggling case after the judge excluded a key state expert who planned to testify to lab results that, it turned out, had “no scientific basis.”
Stoddard has since been removed from the weapons-export case and the incident has been referred to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility.