Today, the US Supreme Court is considering a question of
whether the constitution is violated if the chief judge on the highest court of the state refuses to disqualify himself in a death penalty appeal where he was the chief prosecutor who authorized the defendant’s death sentence, obtained the death sentence though his office’s misconduct, and campaigned for the judgeship by showing how many people he put on death row, including the defendant.
Interestingly, amici included many judges, including the late Judge Judith Kaye, who argued that the judge should have recused himself, and a group of professional responsibility law school professors on the same side.
Prof. Bennett Gershman analyzes the issues and implications of Williams v. Pennsylvania in his latest HuffPost article titled A Perfect Storm: Judicial Prosecutorial Misconduct, and a Death Sentence and outlines the various issues involved in this case. The ultimate question is not only whether the judge should have disqualified himself when deciding the defendant’s death penalty appeal but also whether, if he didn’t, his bias on the panel decision was nothing more than a harmless error. As Prof. Gershman concludes that
…without Justice Scalia, a 4-4 split on the Supreme Court is possible. And if that is the result, then under the Supreme Court’s rules the decision of the Pennsylvania supreme Court would be affirmed – and Terrence Williams will be executed.
The passing of Justice Scalia last week shook the Nation. As many share memories, review his work, and analyze his jurisprudence, we present our third in a series of observations on Justice Scalia’s tenure as a Supreme Court Justice. This one, by Prof. Bennett L. Gershman of Pace Law School, is a link to his most recent HuffPost piece entitled “Justice Scalia’s Faux Originalism.”
Pace Professor Bennett Gershman makes a case for the establishing a prosecutorial misconduct commission, as New York considers doing just that. Read the article in The Daily Beast titled How to Hold Bad Prosecutors Accountable: The Case for a Commission on Prosecutorial Conduct.
As we reported last week, a hearing was held on Friday, May 29 on the motion for appointment of a special prosecutor in Ferguson. After a contentious discussion the Judge Joseph L. Walsh III agreed to consider the expert affidavit of Prof. Bennett Gershman on the issue of prosecutorial misconduct in the grand jury.
Gershman complained about a “gross deviation from proper standards of conduct,” saying he never before saw prosecutors go to “extraordinary lengths to exonerate a potential defendant.”
This Friday, May 29, 2015, a hearing will be held in Missouri State Court in the matter of State of Missouri ex inf. Montague Simmons, et al., v. Robert McCulloch, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney, seeking appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the St. Louis County Prosecutor’s conduct in the grand jury in State of Missouri v. Darren Wilson (previously discussed here). The Wilson matter arose from the death of Michael Brown. After a grand jury presentation, the grand jury failed to indict Officer Wilson in the death of Mr. Brown.
Missouri has an interesting statute, Missouri Revised Statutes §§ 106.220–106.290, that allows a private citizen to bring an action for an investigation to determine if a sitting prosecutor’s conduct constituted a failure to perform the duties of his public office. If so found, a special prosecutor would be appointed with authority to file a writ of quo warranto action seeking ouster of the sitting prosecutor from office.
The motion is supported by the affidavit of Prof. Bennett Gershman, from Pace Law School, who addresses the questions of serious misconduct in the presentation of the case to the grand jury.