Paul Howard Responds to GSU Prof's Misconduct Allegations Against ADA
Fulton DA responds to GSU prof's misconduct accusation against ADA in child molestation case
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard forcefully rejected allegations that one of his prosecutors had violated professional ethics in his handling of a child molestation trial, even though his office signed off last week on a consent order mandating a new trial in the case.
Howard's comments came in response to a letter that a Georgia State University professor sent to the State Bar of Georgia seeking an investigation into whether an assistant district attorney should be disciplined for allegedly withholding exculpatory evidence from defense lawyers during the March trial.
Clark Cunningham, a professor of legal ethics at the GSU College of Law, wrote that ADA Demone Lee's conduct during the trial, which led to a conviction for defendant Jon Thieme, was comparable to other cases of prosecutorial misconduct that had led to disbarment.
As reported in the Daily Report last week, Thieme was sentenced to 25 years in prison after his conviction in March on one of two counts of child molestation. After the trial, defense attorneys Barry Hazen and Michael Jacobs overheard a juror ask Lee why he had not questioned Thieme or the victim's mother about assertions that he had been anally sodomized, the basis for one of the counts.
Lee responded that he "didn't push the anal sodomy [count] because the kid said it didn't happen," the lawyers said.
The defense lawyers subsequently filed a motion for a new trial, arguing that Georgia law and legal ethics require that evidence that the key witness had lied was essential, exculpatory information that should have been disclosed to the defense.
Lee admitted to withholding the information, and on Dec. 3—the day the state's response to the motion for new trial was due—Howard's office signed a consent order agreeing to a new trial.
When the Daily Report contacted the State Bar last week, General Counsel Paula Frederick pointed to Bar Rule 3.8, "Special Responsibilities of a Prosecutor," as being potentially relevant to Lee's handling of the case. Section d says that a prosecutor must "make timely disclosure to the defense of all evidence or information known to the prosecutor that tends to negate the guilt of the accused or that mitigates the offense." The maximum penalty for violating the rule is a public reprimand.
On Tuesday, Cunningham wrote to Frederick; Julayaun Waters, chairwoman of the State Bar Disciplinary Board's investigative panel; Anthony Askew, chairman of the board's Review Panel; and former bar President Robin Frazier Clark, asking whether the board should initiate a grievance against Lee, and whether the bar should petition the Georgia Supreme Court to suspend Lee pending any disciplinary proceedings.
"I am not filing a grievance against Demone Lee," wrote Cunningham. "I do not know him and have no relationship with any of the attorneys or parties involved in the Thieme case. I write this letter in the spirit of Georgia Rule of Professional Conduct (GRPC) 8.3: "A lawyer having knowledge that another lawyer has committed a violation of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct that raises a substantial question as to the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects, should inform the appropriate professional authority."