Michael Kiefer of The Arizona Republic reports that Deputy Pinal County Attorney Richard Wintory has agreed to a 90-day suspension of his license to practice law for committing misconduct in a capital case, according to a consent agreement filed by the Arizona State Bar on Friday, January 14.
In September 2011, defense attorneys in a death penalty case out of Pima County filed a motion complaining that Wintory – then an assistant Attorney General on the case – was improperly communicating with one of their potential witnesses. Wintory allegedly had numerous conversations with a woman who was working with defense counsel to gather evidence about the defendant’s family history. Wintory submitted an affidavit in which he claimed to have only spoken with her on two occasions. However, court records showed that the pair had spoken at least 7 times including after Pima County Superior Court Judge Paul Tang had expressed concerns about their communications. The defendant ultimately received a plea deal that gave him just 11 years in prison. Though Wintory cited other reasons for the deal, Judge Tang explicitly said during sentencing that the “apparent misconduct allegedly engaged in by the prosecutor” was a contributing factor. Tang referred Wintory to the State Bar for investigation.
The State Bar then filed a formal complaint in which it alleged that Wintory made false statements, was dishonest and engaged in conduct prejudicial to justice throughout the case. Wintory was scheduled to appear at a disciplinary hearing when he agreed to settle out of court.
According to Kiefer,
In the consent agreement, Wintory “conditionally admits” that he violated the state’s Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys, specifically a rule under the heading of “misconduct” that he engaged “in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.”
Prosecutors are rarely disciplined for misconduct. Wintory entered the agreement rather than face a disciplinary hearing.
The consent agreement notes that “had this matter proceeded to hearing rather than being resolved by consent agreement, the State Bar would have contended that (Wintory) knowingly engaged in dishonest conduct. (Wintory) would have contended that, while negligent, he acted in good faith and had no intention to be dishonest or to deceive the court of his colleagues.”
Wintory’s case was one of those highlighted by Kiefer in his four-part series on prosecutorial misconduct in Arizona, published in October last year. Kiefer reported that Wintory had a “history of allegations of prosecutorial misconduct in death-penalty cases” even before arriving at the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, which Wintory has always rebuffed by pointing out that he’s never actually been sanctioned. That will change if the presiding disciplinary judge of the Arizona Supreme Court signs off on the agreement.
Wintory won the Arizona Prosecutor of the Year award in 2007.