Former Assistant United States Attorney Paul Howes was ordered disbarred today by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, because he failed to turn over to defense lawyers evidence favorable to their clients.
Disbarment is the toughest sanction available to Court. It means that Howes’ license to practice law in the District of Columbia is revoked.
Howes improperly distributed $42,000 in witness fees to friends and relatives of government witnesses, not to serve as witnesses, but to help the witnesses maintain their “resolve” to testify for the government. These payments were never disclosed to defense counsel, as required by the Supreme Court decisions in Brady and Giglio.
Howes case in not an isolated incident. Today the U.S. Senate grilled Attorney General Eric Holder about the Justice Department’s botched 2009 corruption case against former Alaska senator Ted Stevens. A court-appointed investigator concluded that the government’s case was tainted by “significant, widespread, and at times intentional misconduct” by the Assistant U.S. Attorney’s involved.
Until the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure are amended to require prosecutors to turn over evidence favorable to the defense, these abuses are likely to continue.
On a personal note, the disbarment of Paul Howes is tragedy for him. I tried cases against Paul, and found him to be intelligent and fair, at least with me. Paul was a Vietnam combat veteran, and that experience shaped his world view. Litigation was all out war for him, and he fought hard.
Once, during a break, he told me about his jungle patrols during the war. Most people imagine war in the daytime, but Paul told me how he used to hide broken pieces of glass or whatever ever else he could find to form a defensive barrier around camp to prevent the enemy sneaking up during the night. Although he will no longer be able to practice law, and for good reason, I hope his talents can find a worthwhile calling.
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