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Prosecutorial Misconduct

Judge Calls for DOJ Probe of Prosecutorial Misconduct

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Judge Calls for DOJ Probe of Prosecutorial Misconduct in Iran Sanctions Case

The order followed a blistering opinion that took to task the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office for making “countless” belated disclosures.

By Tom McParland | February 17, 2021 at 05:46 PM

A Manhattan federal judge on Wednesday called on the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility to investigate “systemic” failures brought to light by the bungled prosecution of an Iranian businessman accused of funneling more than $115 million through the American financial system.

The four-page order, from U.S. District Judge Alison J. Nathan of the Southern District of New York, followed a blistering opinion in September, which took the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office to task for making “countless” belated disclosures to lawyers representing Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad before, during and after his trial earlier this year.

Sadr was convicted last March, following a two-week trial that was complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, but his Steptoe & Johnson attorneys have since aggressively pursued evidence they suspected the government had withheld in discovery. In June, then-U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman acknowledged a spate of “discovery-related issues” and determined that it would “not be in the interests of justice to further prosecute this case.

Nathan, however, had continued her own fact-finding mission to determine whether any lawyers for the prosecution had either intentionally withheld exculpatory evidence or purposely misled the court about the late disclosures.

“Government lawyers wield enormous prosecutorial power,” Nathan wrote in her Sept. 16 ruling. “They must exercise it in a way that is fully consistent with their constitutional and ethical obligations. And it is the obligation of the courts to ensure that they do and hold them accountable if they do not.”

On Wednesday, Nathan said that she had found not found any intentional wrongdoing by individual prosecutors, but reiterated that “disclosure failures and misrepresentations in this case represent grave derelictions of prosecutorial responsibility.”

“In light of this, and given the systemic nature of the errors and misconduct that occurred in this case, the court will not engage in further fact-finding,” she wrote. “Instead, the court urges a full investigation by DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility of all matters related to prosecutorial misconduct in this case.”

“It is the Court’s hope that reforms adopted by the United States Attorney’s Office, coupled with a full investigation by OPR, will ensure that the Government’s errors in this case are not repeated,” the order said.

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