Below is a summary of the latest news on prosecutor misconduct and accountability out of New York State from recent weeks. This includes (1) more bad news out of the Brooklyn DA’s office, (2) the progress of a pair of bills designed to establish a commission on prosecutor conduct, and (3) a mistrial in a bribery case against an embattled politician due to the prosecution’s suppression of 28 hours of phone calls… in Yiddish.
June 2 – Former District Attorney of Kings County (Brooklyn) Joe Hynes is facing possible indictment for the alleged misuse of public funds during his final months of office. According to The New York Times, a New York City Department of Investigation inquiry has suggested that Hynes used “money seized from drug dealers and other criminal defendants to pay a political consultant more than $200,000” during his unsuccessful re-election campaign last year:
“The report, which has been referred to the state attorney general and several other agencies, concluded that Mr. Hynes could face larceny charges for the misuse of public funds.”
June 10 – Longtime Brooklyn homicide prosecutor James Leeper has abruptly ceased work at the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office after 27 years in the job following a June 2 article by Joaquin Sapien at ProPublica about his misconduct in the high-profile wrongful conviction of Jonathan Fleming.
Fleming, whose case we have previously written about here, was prosecuted by Leeper and the Brooklyn DA’s office for the murder of Darryl Rush, even though Fleming was in Florida at the time of the crime. Leeper convinced Fleming’s jury that he was able to fly to Brooklyn, commit the murder and then fly back to Orlando – all the while suppressing evidence that disproved this very theory of the case:
“The original case file from 1990 contained a time-stamped receipt showing that Fleming had paid an Orlando hotel phone bill just hours before Rush’s murder. The file also contained a letter from the Orlando Police Department informing Brooklyn detectives that Fleming had been seen at the hotel around the time of the killing. By law, Leeper was obligated to turn that material over to Fleming’s lawyer. But he had disclosed none of it.”
According to Sapien, Leeper was previously suspended from his duties for missing a “critical proceeding in a May murder trial due to his drinking.”
June 17 – State Senator Malcolm A. Smith and two other defendants are facing indictments for bribery, but their trial has fallen apart due to the government’s failure to disclose 28 hours of recordings in Yiddish and a further 48 hours in English from wire taps. Judge Kenneth M. Karas, of United States District Court, postponed testimony in the case while defense lawyers tried to digest the new material but eventually declared a mistrial after finding that the translation of the Yiddish recordings would cause delays that were too long for some impaneled jurors. The New York Times reports:
“Within days, Judge Karas ordered federal prosecutors to hand over all the requested recordings. The trove proved gargantuan — 9,000 telephone calls and text messages, including more than 28 hours in Yiddish…
In ruling for a mistrial, Judge Karas did not find any “bad faith” on the part of the prosecutors, Douglas B. Bloom and Justin Anderson, only a judgment call he found to be mistaken.”
June 22 – Last month we wrote about a pair of identical bills currently winding their way through the New York House and Senate which would establish a state commission on prosecutor conduct to review complaints about prosecutors and enforce discipline. The bills have cleared their first hurdle, passing out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee by a vote of 18-1 and out of the Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of 20-0.
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reports that the Senate bill is currently before the Senate Finance Committee, but it is unclear whether it will advance quickly enough to be considered by the full legislature during this legislative session, which concludes next week.
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