O.C. pros­e­cu­tor may get 1-year sus­pen­sion

State Bar judge says with­hold­ing ev­i­dence was ‘ex­tremely se­ri­ous mis­con­duct.’

Los Angeles Times - - CITY & STATE - By Matt Hamilton matt.hamilton @la­times.com Twit­ter: @Mat­tHjourno

The State Bar of Cal­i­for­nia has rec­om­mended that an Or­ange County pros­e­cu­tor be sus­pended for at least a year, find­ing that she failed to turn over to de­fense coun­sel copies of an in­mate’s mail that she se­cretly col­lected be­fore trial.

Deputy Dist. Atty. San­dra Lee Nas­sar’s with­hold­ing of ev­i­dence amounted to “ex­tremely se­ri­ous mis­con­duct,” wrote Yvette D. Roland, a judge of the State Bar Court of Cal­i­for­nia, in a rul­ing filed Tues­day.

“Even when fac­ing dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions, such as the pro­tec­tion of wit­nesses, pros­e­cu­tors must op­er­ate within the con­fines of the law,” Roland wrote.

Nas­sar, a vet­eran pros­e­cu­tor who was ad­mit­ted to the state bar in 1998, did not re­spond to an email seek­ing com­ment.

A spokes­woman for the Or­ange County district at­tor­ney’s of­fice said Thurs­day it was re­view­ing the pro­posed sanc­tion and that Nas­sar was de­cid­ing whether to lodge an ap­peal within the next 30 days.

“Mean­time, her li­cense and abil­ity to prac­tice law re­main in­tact,” spokes­woman Michelle Van Der Lin­den said in a state­ment.

The mis­con­duct case traces back to June 2011, when Nas­sar had ac­cused Car­men Iac­ullo of abus­ing a 5-year-old child; the boy’s mother was also charged. Iac­ullo had faced up to life in prison if con­victed.

Around the time the case was filed, Nas­sar or­dered a “mail cover,” in­struct­ing staff at the county jail to in- ter­cept the in­com­ing and out­go­ing cor­re­spon­dence to both Iac­ullo and the boy’s mother. Let­ters were copied and de­liv­ered to Nas­sar be­fore be­ing for­warded to the de­sired ad­dressee.

The mother pleaded guilty and was re­leased in 2012. The mail cover for Iac­ullo con­tin­ued.

In April 2013, Nas­sar was trans­ferred to a dif­fer­ent unit, and an­other pros­e­cu­tor took on the case. That pros­e­cu­tor was sur­prised by the mail cover, which by then had amassed more than 1,000 pages of cor­re­spon­dence, and spoke with a su­per­vi­sor. The pros­e­cu­tor con­cluded that the ma­te­ri­als should have been given to Iac­ullo’s de­fense at­tor­ney.

The judge in the case, Thomas Goethals, chas­tised Nas­sar in a court hear­ing and ruled that she com­mit­ted a “will­ful Brady vi­o­la­tion.” At the hear­ing, Nas­sar chalked it up to “trial strat­egy,” ac­cord­ing to court pa­pers.

Un­der the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court rul­ing in Brady vs. Mary­land, pros­e­cu­tors must turn over any ev­i­dence that could aid the de­fense.

“I don’t know if [Nas­sar] doesn’t know what the law is,” Goethals said at a court hear­ing. “That’s no excuse. Ig­no­rance of the law for an ex­pe­ri­enced pros­e­cu­tor for en­gag­ing in Brady mis­con­duct is not a rea­son­able excuse ei­ther.”

In one of the let­ters from 2011, the boy’s mother wrote to Iac­ullo and said she knew he “didn’t do what they’re say­ing” be­cause he had not been in the home at the time of the abuse. How­ever, the boy’s mother had agreed to tes­tify against Iac­ullo.

In 2014, Iac­ullo pleaded guilty to child abuse and was sen­tenced to 12 years in state prison.

Be­fore the state bar court, Nas­sar said she con­sid­ered only the 2011 let­ter from the boy’s mother to be ex­cul­pa­tory, and she said she didn’t have to turn over the let­ter be­cause it was mailed to Iac­ullo, ac­cord­ing to court pa­pers. There­fore, it was in his pos­ses­sion.

Roland, the state bar judge, wrote that the re­quire­ment that pros­e­cu­tors turn over ev­i­dence did not have ex­cep­tions, so Nas­sar should have still turned over the ev­i­dence.

The judge also found fault with how Nas­sar viewed her han­dling of the case.

“This court found deeply dis­turb­ing [Nas­sar’s] tes­ti­mony that she would en­gage in the same con­duct again,” stated Roland, adding that the “lack of in­sight on this sub­ject rep­re­sents a tremen­dous threat of fu­ture harm to the pub­lic and the ad­min­is­tra­tion of jus­tice.”

Ac­cord­ing to the rec­om­men­da­tion, Nas­sar would be placed on pro­ba­tion for three years, and at least the first year of that would in­clude a sus­pen­sion from prac­tic­ing law. The sus­pen­sion would be in place un­til she pro­vides proof of “re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion,” ac­cord­ing to the judge.

The judge’s rec­om­men­da­tion will ul­ti­mately go to the Cal­i­for­nia Supreme Court for ap­proval.

Nas­sar, who has no prior record of dis­ci­pline be­fore the bar, had char­ac­ter ref­er­ences sub­mit­ted from more than two dozen peo­ple. Ac­cord­ing to court pa­pers, the let­ters came from pros­e­cu­tors, crim­i­nal de­fense at­tor­neys and even one Or­ange County Su­pe­rior Court judge.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.