Prosecutorial Misconduct



 

Santa Clara County prosecutor Field faces rare charges from state bar 
By Brandon Bailey
Mercury News
San Jose Mercury News 
Article Launched:10/20/2007 01:44:47 AM PDT 
 

In a rare move, the State Bar of California has brought formal disciplinary charges against a Santa Clara County prosecutor who was once a rising star on the district attorney's staff and an aspiring candidate for higher office.

Deputy District Attorney Benjamin Field, who has prosecuted high-profile sex crimes, murders and other serious cases, now finds himself facing a host of charges that he violated ethical and professional rules by, among other things, hiding evidence and ignoring judicial orders during his handling of three cases dating back to 1995.

If the charges are upheld, Field could face temporary suspension or even permanent disbarment from practicing law. Field's attorney, however, said the 43-year-old prosecutor is innocent on all counts and plans to fight the allegations.

"This is an ill-advised attempt to disable a very fine prosecutor who has served the public well for 14 years," said Allen Ruby, an attorney in private practice who has also represented former San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales and other prominent clients.

The state bar is the agency responsible for evaluating misconduct charges against lawyers in California. While the bar investigates hundreds of complaints against lawyers every year, officials said charges against a prosecutor are extremely rare.

Officials could recall only a few cases in which the state has disciplined prosecutors for misconduct in recent years - and none in Santa Clara County.

Bar officials began investigating Field in 2005 after receiving repeated complaints from an aunt of defendant Damon Auguste, who waged a long and ultimately successful fight to have his conviction for rape and sodomy overturned.

Donna Auguste accused Field of ignoring a judge's order and instigating an illegal search of her Colorado home at a time when Field was opposing her nephew's efforts in court.

In their formal complaint, bar officials charge that Field used false or misleading information to arrange several search warrants that were not allowed under the law, and that he disobeyed a judge who ordered Field not to conduct searches without the judge's approval.

The complaint also says the same judge found Field intentionally withheld the fact that Field's investigator had located a witness who made statements supporting Auguste's assertion of innocence.

Officials expanded their investigation in 2006 to include two other cases: a robbery in which a judge found that Field failed to disclose evidence that a key prosecution witness may have taken part in the crime, and a sexual assault in which a judge said Field defied court orders by arranging a dental exam in an attempt to prove a juvenile defendant was older than the youth claimed to be.

The Mercury News reported on Field's actions in all three cases as part of its 2006 series, "Tainted Trials, Stolen Justice," which disclosed examples of questionable conduct by judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys.

Field, who previously had expressed interest in running for district attorney and also sought appointment as a judge, said in interviews for the newspaper series that he never intentionally engaged in misconduct. Portraying himself as a prosecutor who fights vigorously on behalf of crime victims, he added that the behavior for which the judges had criticized him was simply a result of misunderstandings.

State bar officials ultimately produced a 40-page document that accuses Field of 20 violations of legal and professional rules, including moral turpitude, failure to perform with competence, suppressing evidence and failure to comply with the law. They filed the document with the state bar's disciplinary court earlier this month.

District Attorney Dolores Carr declined to comment on the allegations Friday, except to confirm that Field is still employed by her office.

"This is a formal proceeding before the state bar court, so it would not be appropriate for me to say anything that would affect this case," said Carr, a veteran prosecutor and judge who was elected district attorney last year.

Reached at the district attorney's office Friday, Field referred a reporter to Ruby, who said Field is handling cases in the district attorney's economic crimes division.

"We intend to dispute every single allegation of wrongdoing in this complaint," said Ruby.

Under state law, attorneys for the bar and for Field will be allowed to present evidence and make arguments before a judge who works exclusively for the state bar court. If the judge upholds the charges, he can issue a public reproving or recommend more serious discipline to the state Supreme Court.

The vast majority of attorney discipline cases are resolved with a negotiated settlement, rather than going to trial, said Donald Steedman, a supervising attorney for the state bar.
 

Contact Brandon Bailey at  bbailey@mercurynews.com  or (408) 920-5022. 
 


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