The National Attorneys General Training & Research Institute
CEPI Newsletter March 2018
This monthly compendium of news reports about corruption and ethics issues is brought to you by the Center for Ethics and Public Integrity (CEPI). Neither the National Association of Attorneys General nor the National Attorneys General Training & Research Institute express a view as to the accuracy of news accounts or affirm any position taken by the authors of the hyperlinked articles.
Ex-Bailiff Pleads Guilty to Felony Ethics Violation: A former bailiff in Tuscaloosa County (Alabama) District Court has pled guilty to violating the state’s Ethics Act by telling defendants they tested positive for illegal substances during their urinalysis and offering to change the results for a fee. Quenton Wesley also provided defendants with false documents that reported they had satisfied their community service obligations; for this service, Wesley accepted both cash and labor for a business with which he was associated. The Alabama Attorney General’s Office prosecuted the case.
California Attorney General to investigate the Madera County Board of Supervisors: The California Attorney General’s Office has taken over an investigation initiated by the Madera County District Attorney into contracts entered into, spending by, and political contributions obtained by the county’s Board of Supervisors.
Georgia AG Refers Atlanta Text Messages for Criminal Investigation: The Georgia Attorney General’s Office has referred for criminal investigation a potential scheme to violate the Georgia Open Records Act. Text messages appear to reveal that the communications officers for Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed directed others to “be as unhelpful as possible” and provide information “in the most confusing format available” in an effort to delay and stymie the release of public information requested by the media. Obstructing or “frustrating” the release of documents required by the Open Records Act is a misdemeanor.
Melba Woman Sentenced for Falsifying Public Records: The Idaho Attorney General’s Office prosecuted a former sheriff’s office dispatcher, Lori Collins, for accessing an incident report in a sheriff’s office database, altering it, printing it, deleting the alternations, and taking the altered document home for a personal purpose. Collins was sentenced to probation and ordered to perform community service. Her certification to be a dispatcher has been revoked by the Idaho Peace Officer Standards and Training Council.
Officials: Monroe Judge Paid Women for Sex: The Michigan Attorney General’s Office has charged First District Judge Jarod Calkins with several counts of prostitution-related crimes, in connection with allegations that he met women at a hotel on several occasions to pay them for sexual activity. The complaint outlines the allegations against him.
Detroit District Court Officer Charged With Pocketing Money for Legal Judgments: Former 36th District Court Officer William Blake has been charged by the Michigan Attorney General’s Office with embezzling money that people provided to him for judgments that had been entered against them. In one instance, Blake is alleged to have appeared at a church with his court-issued badge and gun, and to have demanded an immediate payment of $5,000. The pastor could only provided Blake $1,000—which Blake accepted and kept for his own use.
Former MDC Guard Gets 10 Years in Prison: Former Metropolitan Detention Center prison guard Enock Arvizo has been sentenced to ten years in state prison for raping a female inmate inside a courthouse elevator. Arvizo was originally charged with other incidents involving inmates, but several of those charges were dismissed after a key witness died. The ten-year sentence, which had been requested by the New Mexico State Attorney General’s Office, which brought the case, was the maximum sentence Arvizo faced.
Judge Dismisses Corruption Charge Against Southern New Mexico DA, Four Charges Remain: The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office has charged the district attorney in the Sixth Judicial District, Francesca Estevez, with using her position to subvert an investigation into allegations of misconduct during a traffic stop. Days after being pulled over during a traffic stop—during which she allegedly appeared intoxicated and bullied the officers—Estevez called one of the officers multiple times to inquire about her possible charges.
Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas Arraigned on Criminal Charges: Mount Vernon, New York, Mayor Richard Thomas has been charged by the New York Attorney General’s Office with diverting for his own use over $60,000 from his campaign and inaugural committee. Thomas is alleged to have used the funds to pay for, among other things, rent on his home, a family vacation to Mexico, and a $2,000 Chanel purse. The case is part of a joint task force between the attorney general and the state comptroller, who is able to confer criminal jurisdiction upon the attorney general’s office by referring cases for investigation.
Guilderland Judge and Second Lawyer Accused of Stealing $4 Million From Estates: The New York Attorney General’s Office has filed charges against Guilderland town judge Richard J. Sherwood and financial advisor Thomas Lagan for allegedly stealing $4 million from trusts they oversaw.
Joe Percoco, Andrew Cuomo's Ex-Aide, Guilty of 3 Felonies in Bribery Case: After a trial that included the mid-testimony remand of a key cooperating witness and lengthy, sometimes troubled, jury deliberations, an former aide to New York’s current governor was convicted of three counts and acquitted of three counts. Joe Percoco was convicted of two counts of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and one count of soliciting a bribe or a gratuity. Co-defendants faced a mixed verdict: the jury was unable to reach a verdict as to Peter Galbraith Kelly, convicted Steven Aiello, and acquitted Joseph Gerardi.
District Judge in Hidalgo County Charged with Accepting Bribes: A state district judge in Texas has been charged with accepting three bribes in exchange for favorable rulings in his court. Judge Rodolfo Delgado has also been suspended by a state judicial commission.
Former Homeland Security Agent Imprisoned for Accepting Bribes from Drug Lord: A former agent for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Christopher Ciccione II, has been sentenced to three years in prison for accepting bribes from a fugitive narcotics kingpin in exchange for working to have the kingpin’s drug case dismissed.
Ex-Assistant DA Who Wiretapped NYPD Love Interest Gets Year in Jail: A former Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney has been sentenced to one year and one day in federal prison after pleading guilty to using wiretaps and search warrants to eavesdrop on a former love interest. Rita Lenich had been a supervisor in the DAO’s Violent Criminal Enterprises Bureau, which provided her with access to the personnel and equipment needed to carry out her scheme.
Judge Says Ex-Sutherland Partner is Competent for Trial, Cites 'Snowball Effect' in Prior Diagnoses: A federal judge in Atlanta has found lawyer Bennett Kight competent to stand trial, despite defense attorneys’ efforts to argue that a brain hemorrhage Kight suffered in 2008 led to cognitive decline that made him unable to understand the charges against him. Kight, who was a partner at a large Atlanta firm, is charged with embezzling $2 million from three trust funds he administered.
‘Menendez’ Decision Clarifies Issues in Public Corruption Cases: Two white collar defense attorneys provide a thoughtful analysis of the decision dismissing several counts in the Bob Menendez case, including the district court’s narrow construction of McDonnell.
Is It Now Too Hard To Prosecute Politicians For Corruption?: In an NPR program called “On Point,” panelists—including law professors and defense attorneys who were formerly federal prosecutors—discuss the Bob Menendez and Bob McDonnell cases.
Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski Has Room to Appeal, But Success is Uncertain, Experts Say: The former mayor of Allentown, Pennsylvania, has been convicted in federal court of 47 counts related to several different “pay to play” schemes. Experts weigh in on his chances of appeal, including whether his conduct fulfills requirements set forth in McDonnell.
Judge Rejects Defense Claim That Oaks was Wrongly Charged on Six Counts: Defense attorneys for former Maryland State Senator Nathaniel T. Oaks unsuccessfully argued that six counts charged in the federal criminal case against their client were not “official acts” under McDonnell. This was just the latest defense motion in the case, which included Oaks’s lawyers previously apologizing for claiming that prosecutors had tried to “smear” Oaks.
New Jersey is considering A.1239, which would increase penalties for certain public corruption offenses; bar public entities from confidential settlements of “whistleblower” claims; and provide for oversight by Comptroller of certain issues arising for county prosecutors.
Legislators in New York are considering several bills related to corruption, including S.124 (which relates to undisclosed self-dealing) and S.7149 (which relates to political contributions by limited liability companies). New York is also considering a constitutional amendment that would establish a Commission on State Government Integrity. The integrity commission would be responsible for investigating and penalizing ethics violations (and other forms of workplace misconduct) for New York’s legislative and executive branches, and for administering and enforcing campaign finance laws.
If the Judiciary Won't Crack Down on Political Corruption, It's Up to Congress to Act: A Los Angles Times editorial argues that Congress should enact legislation to address gaps in corruption enforcement caused by McDonnell.
Why Does the American Bar Association Oppose Beneficial Ownership Transparency Reform?: Harvard Law Prof. Matthew Stephenson writes about federal bills that would require additional information about the beneficial owners of corporations. He also criticizes the American Bar Association’s decision to “come out strongly against this legislation,” despite what Stephenson opines is the support by “many ABA members” of greater transparency in this area.
The American Bar Association has released Formal Opinion 480, which provides guidance about confidentiality obligations for lawyers who blog and engage in other forms of public commentary.
Broward County Judge Claudia Robinson Resigns: Former Broward County, Florida, Judge Claudia Robinson has resigned after agreeing to a 30-day suspension for committing an ethics violation. Robinson steered more than 80% of mediation appointments to an unpaid advisor to her election campaign and conceded that she “created the appearance of impropriety and favoritism in the mediation appointment process.” When she resigned, Robinson was also under investigation regarding “additional matters.”
Ethics Complaints Filed Against NJ Judge following DWI Arrest on Rt. 80: Essex County, New Jersey Judge Wilfredo Benitez—who New Jersey State Troopers found asleep behind the wheel of a car on a New Jersey highway in November 2016—is the subject of ethics complaints. Benitez is alleged to have cited his position as a judge during the traffic stop in an effort to avoid drunk driving charges.
New York has joined California and Minnesota in requiring that attorneys obtain Continuing Legal Education in “diversity and inclusion.” The ABA passed a resolution in 2016 asking bar licensing authorities to make diversity and inclusion programs a separate credit. According to the NY Bar FAQ “programs may include, among other things, diversity, inclusion and elimination of bias based on, for example, race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, age or disability.”
Court Overturns Conviction of ‘Grid Kid’ Killer: A New York state appeals court has reversed the conviction of John Giuca, who was convicted in 2005 of the murder of New Jersey college football star Mark Fisher. The court concluded that the prosecutor erred by not disclosing that a cooperating witness in the case had received special treatment from the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office in exchange for his testimony.
Defamation Suit Against Ex-DA by Former Employee Shot Down by U.S. Appeals Court: The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by a former Centre County District Attorney’s Office paralegal who alleged that a press conference held by then-District Attorney Stacey Parks Miller deprived her of her constitutional rights. Former district attorney’s office paralegal Michelle Shutt and the former district attorney have both sued each other for actions arising out of an incident in which Shutt alleged that Parks Miller forged the signature of a judge on a bail order—an allegation that was raised at a county commissioners’ meeting. Parks Miller referred the issue to the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General, which concluded that the signature on the order was not forged. At some point, Parks Miller held a press conference at which she harshly criticized Shutt. Parks Miller then sued the judge, officials, and attorneys who discussed the alleged forgery, as well as Shutt—who she also alleged breached her fiduciary duty by forwarding official district attorney’s office emails as part of an effort to land a job in the private sector. The circuit previously affirmed the dismissal of that nearly all of Parks Miller’s “inartfully pled” lawsuit, but allowed the breach of fiduciary duty allegation against Shutt to continue. A third lawsuit filed by Parks Miller regarding the county’s release of communications between her and judges that revealed she had been engaging in improper ex parte communications appears to remain pending. Finally, Parks Miller faces a disciplinary hearing before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Disciplinary Board, which has been continued several times. Charges in that case include Parks Miller’s ex parte communications with judges, along with her creation of a fictitious Facebook account to “friend” defendants and witnesses.
‘Hit Him Again’: Judge Repeatedly Orders Man Shocked in Court, Forces New Trial: A Texas appeals court has overturned the conviction of a man, who had mental health issues, because the trial judge repeatedly ordered his bailiff to electrocute the man with a stun belt. The shocks were ordered not because the defendant posed any clear safety risk, but because the judge was annoyed with the man’s responses to answers about courtroom procedures. After the defendant was shocked three times during a trial, he was removed from the courtroom; given the opportunity to return, he said that he was too afraid to come back to court. Neither the prosecutor nor the man’s attorney objected. In reversing the jury’s verdict—which was imposed in the man’s absence—the appellate court wrote about the need to prevent the courts from “drift[ing] from justice into barbarism.”
WA: Missing the Point: Prosecutors Somehow Manage Yet Another PowerPoint-Related Reversal: In a somewhat snarky piece (to which we cite primarily because it contains references to other cases involving similar issues), “prosecutorialaccountability.com” describes a recent Washington state case in which a murder conviction was reversed due to a PowerPoint used during the prosecutor’s summation. The case, State v. Salas, also involved a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.
Oversight.Gov: Oversight.gov is a publicly accessible, searchable website containing the latest public reports from federal inspectors general. (Thanks to the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity for this tip.)
Olympic Anti-Corruption Measures, in Three Dimensions: A writer at the FCPA Blog discussed how to address corruption in the Olympics.
Corruption Charges Suggested for Netanyahu: Police in Israel have recommended charges for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust be filed against the country’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Additional corruption allegations are still being investigated.
Hundreds Lose New Zealand Drivers Licenses in Bribery Scandal: Three officials at the New Zealand Transport Agency alleged took bribes from 350 drivers to accept fake overseas licenses and phony driving course certificates. The scandal has resulted in the cancellation of hundreds of driver’s licenses. New Zealand ranks as the least corrupt country in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.
Amie Ely is the Director of the Center for Ethics & Public Integrity and the Editor of the CEPI Newsletter and may be reached at 202-326-6041. The CEPI Newsletter is a publication of the National Association of Attorneys General. Any use and/or copies of this newsletter in whole or part must include the customary bibliographic citation. NAAG retains copyright and all other intellectual property rights in the material presented in this publication. For content submissions or to contact the editor directly, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.