US Department of Justice backs prosecutors charged with ethical breaches

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The US Department of Justice (DOJ) crest at its headquarters in Washington, DC, United States on May 10, 2021. REUTERS / Andrew Kelly

  • DOJ embarks on an ethics case to resist sanction from two former DC federal prosecutors.
  • The bar’s disciplinary board recommended a six-month suspension for allegedly breaking the rule of disclosure of evidence.

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(Reuters) – The US Department of Justice has embarked on a fight against lawyer ethics in Washington, DC, to defend two federal prosecutors facing a six-month suspension over allegations from local bar regulators that they concealed evidence from defense lawyers in a criminal case years ago.

The Department of Justice has urged the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, Washington’s top local court and which oversees lawyer discipline, to overturn a stay recommended by an attorneys conduct board for Mary Dobbie and Reagan Taylor . The DOJ’s brief, which has not been reported before, was filed late last month.

Dobbie and Taylor were assistant U.S. attorneys in the District of Columbia assigned to prosecute an assault case arising from a 2007 jail scrum. Dobbie has since moved to the main office of the Department of Justice and Taylor is a federal prosecutor in Tennessee.

In January, DC’s Professional Liability Board recommended punishment after finding that Dobbie and Taylor had violated a bar rule that governs prosecutors’ duty to disclose exculpatory information. Prosecutors denied acting in bad faith and instead said they made mistakes that resulted in incomplete disclosure of a key law enforcement witness.

Timothy Simeone of the Washington Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis store, which represents Dobbie, did not respond to a request for comment. And Taylor’s attorney, Alex Little, a partner at Burr & Forman in Nashville, Tennessee, declined to comment, as did board chairman Matthew Kaiser of the Washington KaiserDillon.

The DOJ’s submission of an amicus brief marks another clash between the United States and the DC Disciplinary Board Office, the regulatory body that enforces the conduct of attorneys provisions in the nation’s capital. The responsibility council evaluates the cases brought by the disciplinary council and the court of appeal has the last word.

The Disciplinary Council’s office has long asserted a role in overseeing the conduct of federal prosecutors in Washington, DC, which is home to the headquarters of the Department of Justice and the largest US attorney’s office in the country.

At the heart of the dispute is the scope of a DC Bar rule that says a prosecutor cannot “intentionally fail to disclose” useful information.

The Justice Department’s brief says bar authorities must prove that prosecutors acted in “bad faith” in circumstances where evidence was allegedly suppressed or not delivered in time for defense lawyers. can use it during criminal proceedings. The DOJ’s brief was signed by Channing Phillips, the acting US attorney for DC, and Stacy Ludwig, director of a professional liability office at the Department of Justice.

Bar disciplinary counsel Hamilton Fox said that the attorney’s rule of conduct – 3.8 (e) – “does not contain an element of bad faith, and it would be bad policy to incorporate it. a”.

Fox told the appeals court that “violations are easy to avoid: you just have to disclose them.”

The case has attracted interest from third parties, including public defenders and an advocacy group representing the views of current and former federal prosecutors.

“Overly aggressive interpretations of ethical requirements in particular can impose real costs,” Donald Verrilli Jr of Munger, Tolles & Olson told the court on behalf of the National Association of Assistant US Attorneys. “Such an approach risks systemic injustice for prosecutors” who often have to make difficult judgments “with insufficient time for a full review or careful consideration.”

The case is In re: Reagan Taylor and In re: Mary Chris Dobbie, District of Columbia Court of Appeals, No. 21-BG-024.

For the complainants: Hamilton Fox of DC Office of Disciplinary Counsel

For Dobbie: Timothy Simeone of Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis

For Taylor: Alex Little from Burr & Forman


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