Wednesday, January 19, 2005

N.C. State Bar Investigates Itself

Yeah, we're holding our breath on this one!

The North Carolina State Bar licenses lawyers to practice in the state, and it's also supposedly in charge of maintaining the ethics of that practice.

We have some experience with the process of complaining to the State Bar about the ethics and practice of a lawyer, and we actually won an official letter of reprimand against the lawyer we complained about ... unusual in itself, since the Bar is notoriously reluctant to take action against its own members. They have to have done something really really bad to get even a slap on the wrist.

In the 1998 trial of Alan Gell for murder, David Hoke and Debra Graves, former prosecutors for the Attorney General's office, deliberately withheld exculpatory evidence that they were obliged by law to turn over to the defense. The withholding of that evidence led to the conviction of Gell, who spent nine years in jail, much of that time on death row. When the withheld evidence finally came to light, Gell was given a new trial in 2002 and was acquitted and freed.

Last September, lawyers Hoke and Graves were themselves investigated and "tried" by the State Bar for the railroading of Gell. For wrongfully and illegally withholding exculpatory evidence that caused an innocent man to spend nine years of his life behind bars, Hoke & Graves were ... yes, "reprimanded." Bottomline: "Hoke and Graves, you're free to go right on lawyering in this state" (though not necessarily for the Attorney General).

Lawyers, bless their hearts! Even some of that tribe couldn't swallow the Hoke/Graves whitewashing, so yesterday in Raleigh a special investigation of lawyers (the State Bar) by lawyers (members of the State Bar) got under way to look at what happened in the Hoke/Graves "prosecution." According to the N&O, "The special committee will examine two questions: Was there any bias or corruption or undue influence in the prosecution of Hoke and Graves? Was the State Bar's prosecution of Hoke and Graves within the range of acceptable lawyering?"

Sometimes lawyers themselves not only write the lawyer jokes, they are the lawyer jokes. Morals, ethics, and the simple letter of the law? No. "The range of acceptable lawyering" is everything!

The "investigation" is supposed to conclude in six months. We will not, as we said earlier, be holding our breath.

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