Federal Prosecutor Disbarred for Misconduct

In a very rare move, a federal court has disbarred a former federal prosecutor for a range of misconduct. Unfortunately, it seems that the primary reason for doing so was misappropriating funds rather than for railroading an innocent person. USA Today reports:

The District of Columbia’s highest court disbarred a former federal prosecutor on Thursday for “egregious” misconduct during a series of high-profile murder cases in the 1990s.

The court’s decision to strip former assistant U.S. attorney G. Paul Howes of his law license is the first time in at least a decade that judges anywhere in the United States have disbarred a federal prosecutor for misconduct in a criminal case.

“Disbarment is the only appropriate sanction where (Howes’) disregard for the laws of our jurisdiction affected the liberty interests of many and the safety of our larger community,” the court said.

Thursday’s decision by three D.C. Court of Appeals judges came nearly 16 years after Howes was first accused of misusing thousands of dollars of witness vouchers in gang and murder cases. The vouchers are supposed to be used to reimburse witnesses for costs associated with testifying in court, but Howes authorized payments to relatives and girlfriends of informants, an internal Justice Department investigation found.

As a result of those violations, the court said, the Justice Department agreed to reduce prison sentences for nine convicted felons, including seven murderers.

But the real scandal here should be the use of confidential and paid informants, a practice that is so rife with corruption that the problem is almost impossible to overstate. It’s bad that this prosecutor misappropriated funds to pay informants and their associates, but it’s far worse that so many police departments and prosecutors coerce false testimony from informants, usually low-level criminals themselves trying to avoid going to jail. And that goes on every single day in police departments around the country. Until the courts start handing out serious punishment for that, the problem is going to continue.

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  • Gregory

    Keep in mind that the job of a prosecutor is to get convictions, not to punish the guilty. Anything they can do to achieve this goal — no matter how questionable, no matter how shady, no matter how borderline unconstitutional — is permitted as long as it does not cause any overt embarassment. Howes’ wrong-doing was in giving the vouchers directly to the relatives and girlfriends; had he either called the relatives and girlfriends to testify (making them witness who could be bribed paid for their testimony) or handed the vouchers to the witnesses with wink and an understanding that they would be passed on, it would have been business as usual.

    What bothers me about all this is how rare disbarment is, especially at the federal level. Cronyism and corruption at its most blatant.

  • I don’t think the job of a prosecutor is to get convictions; the job of a prosecutor is to get the right convictions, to convict people who are actually guilty of the crimes they are accused of. That seems to be a completely foreign concept to most prosecutors, which is why they so strenuously object to ever freeing someone who was wrongly convicted, no matter how blatant the evidence of injustice.

  • Aquaria

    More lawyers get tripped up over money than anything else. Would that it happened more when they were incompetent or at all when they put away innocent people.

  • slc1

    Re Gregory @ #1

    Actually, the job of a prosecutor, in theory is to do justice, as Marsha Clark famously opined during the O. J. Simpson trial. Unfortunately, due to the adversary system of justice in the US, trials are a game between the prosecution an the defense, no better illustrated then during the aforementioned trial, a game in which the prosecutor holds most of the cards. Only defendants like Simpson who can afford to hire the best attorneys and private investigators get an even playing field.

  • Sorta like nailing Al Capone on tax evasion charges