An Act of Courage: Bronx Criminal Court Judge John H. Wilson
Former United States President Theodore Roosevelt Jr., once stated that “justice consists not in being neutral between right and wrong, but in finding out the right and upholding it, wherever found, against the wrong.” Recently, Bronx Criminal Court Judge John Wilson heeded Roosevelt’s command of justice when he took the courageous step in barring Assistant District Attorney Megan Teesdale from ever appearing in his courtroom as a result of her failure to provide exculpatory evidence to a defendant charged with rape. Judge Wilson, who formerly served as an Assistant District Attorney in Bronx County and graduated from Pace Law School in 1986, ruled that ADA Teesdale had taken part in one of the worst Brady violations that he had witnessed after serving more than nine years on the bench, bringing about great disgrace to both herself and her office.
During pre-trial proceedings, the defense had requested that the prosecution turn over all notes regarding the alleged victim’s initial statements to police. However, the prosecution rebuffed the defense’s request claiming that it did not possess any interview notes or exculpatory evidence that it was required to produce under its Brady obligations. Judge Wilson explained that the prosecution’s representation “turned out, unfortunately to be a lie,” as the prosecution’s file had contained memorialized statements of the victim initially telling police that the sexual encounter with the defendant was consensual.
Judge Wilson noted that the prosecution’s failure to honor its Brady obligation amounted to “gross negligence,” requiring that the case be dismissed in its entirety. He further informed ADA Teesdale that
You are going to leave this courtroom and you are never going to come back. You can’t appear before me anymore. I’ll tell you why, because I cannot trust anything you say or do. I can’t believe you. I can’t believe your credibility anymore. The only thing a lawyer ever has to offer is their integrity and their credibility, and when you’ve lost that, there is no purpose in your appearing before this court.
Judge Wilson deserves great praise for his bravery to faithfully uphold the law. His actions are truly exemplary, and should be followed by all judges when dealing with prosecutors that play “fast and loose” with their Brady obligations. It has become all too common for prosecutors to go unpunished when failing to honor their duty to provide exculpatory evidence to the defense. Judge Wilson’s decision to bar ADA Teesdale from his courtroom was not only proper in this case, but was done in the best interest of the criminal justice system. Indeed, the only thing a court has to offer is its integrity and its credibility, and when it loses that, there is no reason to believe that there will ever be “justice and liberty for all.”
As a result of Judge Wilson’s decision, one must not wonder too far as to whether ADA Teesdale will be more likely to ever commit another Brady violation; or if she will take her Brady obligations more seriously. I would propose that there would be far less Brady violations if all judges took the approach that Judge Wilson did in barring the culpable ADA from ever appearing in his court. For that reason alone, he deserves this honorary salute.
- Denis Slattery, Bronx Prosecutor Bashed and Barred from Courtroom for Misconduct, Daily News (April 6, 2014).