A judge in Denton County says two prosecutors withheld evidence and committed prosecutorial misconduct, banning the pair from his courtroom for the offense. Reported the Denton Record-Chronicle ("Two banned from Burgess' court," April 7):
A state district judge has banned two assistant district attorneys assigned to his courtroom from returning, ruling that they committed prosecutorial misconduct and don’t have “the innate intellect of a fifth-grader.”The prosecutors did not inform defense counsel that their star eyewitness had not, as earlier represented, positively identified the defendant, her husband, instead referring to the suspect as "he or she" and declaring she never saw a face.
Bill Schultz and Forest Beadle were working as family violence prosecutors, trying Silvano Uriostegui on a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in the 158th District courtroom of Judge Steve Burgess. After Burgess’ March 2 ruling that they willfully withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense — evidence that would have helped in his defense — Schultz was moved to the district attorney’s civil division and Beadle was moved into the 16th District Court.
Both men declined comment, citing policy to refer questions to the first assistant district attorney, who acts as spokeswoman for the department.
District Attorney Paul Johnson has defended the two prosecutors, and Jamie Beck, first assistant district attorney, said they were not disciplined but rather counseled on the law as it pertains to the sections the judge ruled they violated during that trial. She said they would be required to take remedial courses in issues surrounding exculpatory evidence.
The Record-Chronicle adds that the situation - though not a formal grievance - has been forwarded to the state bar:
Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct provide that such conduct as the two prosecutors were found to have committed should be reported to the disciplinary council of the State Bar of Texas. Johnson, in a three-page letter to the council, wrote that he was satisfying that requirement but that he was not submitting a grievance against [prosecutors Bill] Schultz and [Forrest] Beadle. He defended their actions, stating that they did not intentionally withhold evidence.If the conclusion of the Record-Chronicle account accurately portrays it, Judge Burgess sounds furious over the incident:
In his ruling on the writ of habeas corpus, the judge was detailed in his criticism of the way the evidence was handled.See the rest of the Record-Chronicle story for more detail.
“My jaw dropped to the ground when Mrs. Uriostegui testified the way that she did,” Burgess said in his ruling. “I was shocked. And for the state to actually know this and not disclose it, the only good thing I can say from this miserable hearing is at least Forrest Beadle told the truth and was not evasive and was straightforward. I don’t particularly like his answers, but he at least was honest.”
Burgess apparently was referring to notes Beadle made during the hearing that were subpoenaed by Amador that Amador was making another “[expletive] Brady motion.”
Burgess said that he could not fathom how someone who had been to law school and had practiced as long as Schultz and Beadle could not know they were violating rules of exculpatory evidence.
“And how disingenuous it is to get up here and testify that you don’t think that it’s Brady that the victim can’t identify by face or by anything other than smell and a boot who the attacker is ... ,” he said. “I’m going to have to ban both Mr. Beadle and Mr. Schultz from my courtroom. They’re not allowed to appear in this courtroom until I rule otherwise.”
Burgess said that it was particularly sad that the actions of the prosecutors robbed Maria Uriostegui of justice for the injuries she suffered. He found that the prosecutors goaded the defense into entering a plea bargain to avoid an acquittal in the case.
“A woman that was knifed nine times in the gut and elsewhere doesn’t get justice because nobody can read Brady, understand Brady, or has the innate intellect of a fifth-grader,” the judge said.
My question: Given that the only prosecutor in memory publicly sanctioned by the state bar was Terry McEachern from the infamous Tulia drug stings - and that a recent survey of prosecutor misconduct findings by Texas appellate courts found no examples resulting in public state bar discipline - what are the odds the state bar publicly sanctions either or both of these prosecutors?
For my part, even if every jot and tittle of the judge's criticism is accurate, I couldn't go higher than 5% and would have a hard time justifying that number. Terry McEachern was disciplined because in that one case lightning struck, national and even international media honed in on the tiny South Plains community, and the activities he'd concealed of his undercover officer, Tom Coleman, were too well documented to ignore (largely thanks to mi amigos Nate Blakeslee and Jeff Blackburn, to give credit where it's due). So much attention had been drawn to the case IMO that the state bar disciplinary committee felt they would discredit themselves if they didn't act. But the system shouldn't require the case to be the subject of a 60 Minutes segment or a BBC documentary before the state bar mandarins decide to rein in rogue prosecutors. As a starting point, when judges tell them prosecutorial misconduct is going on in their courtroom and the elected DA's response is to move alleged Brady violator to another court, that should send up enough red flags to warrant a fuller investigation, even if the prosecutors' boss didn't submit a formal grievance.