Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Louisiana Supreme Court disciplinary opinion which imposed a one year and one day suspension with 6 months deferred on a federal prosecutor for having an intimate relationship with an FBI agent who was an investigator and witness in her cases and lying about it. The disciplinary case is In Re: C. Mignonne Griffing, Case No. 2017-B-0874 and the October 18, 2017 disciplinary opinion is here: file:///C:/Users/jcorsmeier/Downloads/17B0874.OPN.pdf
The relationship was revealed during the trial of two Monroe, Louisiana city councilmen and the Ouachita Parish sheriff. “After the sheriff’s counsel raised the possibility of the relationship, (the lawyer) was questioned by the United States Attorney and was not immediately and fully forthcoming.”
The lawyer initially denied the relationship with the (married) FBI agent at that time but it was later confirmed. The disciplinary opinion adopted the findings of the disciplinary board that the misconduct “led to the government’s decision to relitigate the case against Councilmen Stevens and Gilmore, caused harm in the form of the additional expenditure of resources to retry the case, and adversely impacted the government’s tendered plea bargain offered to Sheriff Toney. The potential for harm also exists, as it is possible that the issue of the relationship may be raised in other cases prosecuted by respondent in which the FBI agent testified. Furthermore, her actions are the type that cause unfavorable opinion by the public towards the legal system and especially, the United States Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Louisiana.”
The lawyer denied that the relationship created a conflict of interest and defended the formal. She was ultimately found guilty of multiple violations of the Louisiana Bar Rules, including conflict of interest and making false statements in denying the conduct.
According to the opinion, “(b)ecause the relationship with the FBI agent could reasonably give rise to a basis for questioning the interest and/or credibility of the witness by the defense, the existence of the relationship should have been disclosed to the defendants, but (the lawyer) failed to do so.” “In addition, the disciplinary board found (the lawyer) made assurances to the sheriff’s counsel relative to his client’s indictment and arrest. This conduct, and her phone call threatening the sheriff’s public arrest, were clearly improper.” “(The lawyer’s) actions are the type that cause unfavorable opinion by the public towards the legal system and especially, the United States Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Louisiana.”
The opinion increased the deferred six-month suspension recommended by the disciplinary board. “When taken cumulatively, including the multiple violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct and specifically considering respondent’s dishonesty and misrepresentation to which she has stipulated, we find that the fully deferred suspension recommended by the board is not appropriate and that respondent must serve an actual period of suspension. We will impose a one year and one day suspension, deferring all but six months of the suspension in light of the substantial mitigating circumstances present.” The lawyer also served a 19 day suspension from her job as a prosecutor without pay for the misconduct.
Bottom line: This lawyer was found to have engaged in a relationship with a law enforcement agent who was an investigator and witness in many of the cases that she was prosecuting for the U.S. Attorney’s Office and failed to disclose it (for obvious reasons). The lawyer paid the price for this misconduct with a suspension of her license and a serious hit to her reputation.
Be careful out there.
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Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
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