A former Venango County prosecutor has been disbarred by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for misconduct in three separate criminal cases along with his failure to participate in the disciplinary proceedings brought against him.
In its extensive findings, the state Supreme Court’s disciplinary board found that James Paul Carbone, 54, had violated seven different state ethics rules, and it concluded, in remarkably strong language, that he was “a danger to the public and the profession.”
Carbone served in the district attorney’s office of rural Venango county from 2000 until late 2012, when he was fired following the second of the three cases cited in the board’s opinion, which the state Supreme Court adopted in its entirety.
In the tangled, multi-year prosecution, retrial, and eventual dismissal of the indictment against David Anderson on sex offense charges against three minors, Carbone was found to have coached child witnesses in direct contravention of the trial court’s orders. The court had mandated that a state guardian be present for all meetings between Carbone and the children. Carbone ignored the order, met with the children on his own, and led them through the questions he would pose and the answers they were to give in court.
Carbone’s conduct in the Anderson case was so egregious that an appellate court found retrial would violate Anderson’s right to be free of double jeopardy. This is an extraordinary (and extraordinarily potent) remedy that we have written about before in both Pennsylvania, which has strong state Supreme Court precedent supporting it, and in Arizona, where the high profile Deborah Milke case finally came to an end with the same finding.
In a second case involving children, this time against a defendant charged with child endangerment, Anderson claimed in his opening statement that there would be testimony from doctors, which was never, in fact, introduced; he “repeatedly yelled, menaced, and pointed in the faces of the defendant and defense counsel”; and he seriously mischaracterized evidence in his closing arguments. An appellate court again found there had been prosecutorial misconduct and granted a new trial.
Finally, in a 2010 burglary case, the board found that Carbone had driven a defendant from jail to the courthouse to testify against her co-defendant, discussing the defendant’s case with her during the car ride with without her attorney’s knowledge or consent. He was subsequently disqualified from representing the Commonwealth in her prosecution.
The Office for Disciplinary Counsel did not file a petition with the state Supreme Court’s disciplinary board until May of 2014, and the record makes no mention of how the petition came about, or who prompted the action.
As readers of the Open File know, these actions are rare, and the result here is even rarer. It is also worth noting that an “aggravating factor” in the board’s determination that disbarment was the appropriate punishment was Carbone’s complete non-responsiveness to all communication regarding the disciplinary proceedings against him, and his failure to file any written response to the petition. We are left, then, to wonder if the sanction would have been as tough had Carbone bothered to defend himself.
That said, in this case, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s disciplinary procedures are to be commended for leading to the disbarment of a public prosecutor who was, indeed, “a danger to the public and the profession.”