Richard D. Wilstatter, president of the New York State Association of Defense Lawyers correctly quoted me in a Letter to the Editor (“D.A. Policies Fail to Protect Rights,” July 31) saying that “disclosure is not only an ethical obligation, it is a moral imperative.”
Nevertheless I found it disingenuous that my position on disclosure was used out of context to gratuitously criticize my colleague, New York County District Attorney and president of the New York State District Attorneys Association Cyrus R. Vance Jr.
While it does not serve the best interest of our profession for Wilstatter to commend Marvin Schechter, chair of the Criminal Justice Section of the New York State Bar Association for his baseless and reckless claim that “state and federal prosecutors frequently withhold evidence favorable to a defendant,” it’s unfortunate that he omits Schechter’s shocking and calumnious charge in a recent column he authored as chair of the section that the district attorneys of this state teach young prosecutors to violate the Brady rule as a matter of policy (“D.A.s Challenge Claim by Bar Section Head They Undermine ‘Brady,’” NYLJ, July 30).
Vance and immediate past president of the district attorneys association, Janet Di Fiore, were asked by our executive committee to write to the New York State Bar Association President Seymour James expressing our dismay with Schechter’s charge.
In response, James made no attempt to distance his association from Schechter but instead suggested that Schechter was expressing his personal opinion. The leadership of our association were more than a bit surprised and disappointed that James didn’t acknowledge that Schechter was writing not just his solely held opinion but as the chair of the state bar’s Criminal Justice Section.
Vance’s letter was hardly confrontational but instead expressed our view that James had missed an opportunity to address Schechter’s unprofessional claim particularly in its implication that district attorneys were violating our ethical obligations required by the Rules of Professional Conduct.
I would have expected a more reasoned response from the president of a defenders association rather than his unsupported charge that state and federal prosecutors were systemically violating the Brady rule. As a past chair of the Criminal Justice Section of the American Bar Association with a diverse membership of defense attorneys, prosecutors, judges and academics quite different than our state counterpart, I am appalled by this unfortunate rift created by Schechter and Wilstatter as bar leaders which affects the professional collegiality that should exist between the defense bar and this state’s district attorneys.
It should be pointed out that Brady violations are prohibited by our Rules of Professional Conduct and where identified by a lawyer must be promptly reported to an appropriate grievance committee. The failure to do so is a separate violation of the rules.
Rather than making unsupported charges of ethical violations the mandated course is that where there are documented incidents of violations, they are to be immediately reported. After 22 years as Kings County District Attorney and as a member and former president of the New York District Attorneys Association there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that my practice of making disclosure of evidence favorable to defendants, which is both an ethical and moral obligation, is practiced by my 61 colleagues in New York State.
Charles J. Hynes
The author is Kings County District Attorney.