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.