Longtime Cape and Island assistant DA under investigation for misconduct

The Office of the Bar Counsel has filed a three count complaint with the Board of Bar Overseers against Laura Marshard over her conduct in three Vineyard court cases.

Assistant district attorney Laura Marshard in court in 2013. – Ralph Stewart

According to court documents obtained by The Times, assistant district attorney Laura Marshard has come under scrutiny by the Massachusetts Office of the Bar Counsel (OBC) for alleged misconduct in three criminal trials on Martha’s Vineyard. A 12-page, three-count complaint submitted by the OBC to the Board of Bar Overseers on Sept. 6 alleges that Ms. Marshard — prosecutor for the Cape and Islands District Attorney’s Office for 12 years — either failed to share critical information with defense lawyers or attempted to interfere with defense witnesses. Ms. Marshard has disputed the charges.

Count one alleges that Ms. Marshard withheld evidence from defense attorneys that could have absolved two men of charges stemming from a bar brawl at the Ritz Cafe in Oak Bluffs in March 2013. The defendants, Patrece Petersen and Darryl Baptiste, were indicted by a Dukes County grand jury on assault charges related to a fight with brothers Jason and Frank Cray. Mr. Petersen was also charged with attempted murder.

The defendants were acquitted of all charges in November 2014, following a dramatic trial that included charges of racial bias, contradictory witness testimony, and a finding by Judge Richard J. Chin of prosecutorial misconduct on the part of Ms. Marshard.

Defense attorneys Robert Moriarty and John Amabile successfully argued that Ms. Marshard had failed to turn over evidence that would confirm the defendants’ version of events, in particular a conversation Ms. Marshard had with former Ritz owner Christine Arenburg about two months after the incident. When defense attorneys questioned Ms. Arenburg, she said she told Ms. Marshard that “the Cray brothers were lying through their teeth,” and that “there was no fight at the Ritz and no knife at the Ritz,” according to the deposition. The defense argued that Ms. Arenburg’s statements should have been turned over to them, according to the rules of the court.

Defense attorneys also argued that Ms. Marshard’s repeated insistence that the judge advise defense witnesses of their rights amounted to a threat to prosecute the witnesses based on their testimony, and caused the witnesses to refuse to testify.

Judge Chin reprimanded Ms. Marchand, and said, “Her actions were part of a ‘win-at-all-costs’ strategy, and were not consonant with the pursuit of justice…This was not a momentary misstep, but a persistent course of conduct designed to prejudice the Defendant.”

The OBC complaint states that prosecuting attorneys are required to “make timely disclosure to the defense of all evidence or information known to the prosecutor that tends to negate the guilt of the accused or mitigate the offense …”

Count two against Ms. Marshard stems from another ongoing assault case, this one from July 2014, involving Mr. Petersen, in a fight with Edgartown resident David Sylvia. Mr. Petersen was charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, assault and battery on a police officer, mayhem, resisting arrest, and disturbing the peace. According to the OBC complaint, Ms. Marshard “directed an Edgartown police detective [to] locate Sylvia and bring Sylvia to the courthouse library.” Ms. Marshard then met with Mr. Sylvia without his attorney present. Ms. Marshard later agreed she had met with Mr. Sylvia, but only to reassure him he would not be in trouble for his testimony.

In count three, the OBC alleges that Ms. Marshard “failed to correct” false testimony made by State Police Sergeant Jeff Stone to a grand jury in a 2013 drug-trafficking investigation, where three off-Island men with lengthy criminal records were arrested on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs with almost 300 Percocet painkillers worth approximately $15,000.

District Attorney Michael O’Keefe is standing firmly behind Ms. Marshard. Taking exception to a Nov. 14 Boston Globe article, “Vineyard prosecutor accused of misconduct in three cases,” he wrote a letter to Globe editors the same day stating he found it “curious” that the article did not include his support for Ms. Marshard, while “you trot out the usual suspects in support of your thesis that prosecutors aren’t held to account often enough. As I said in my email of Oct. 17 to the author of this article, I have reviewed the materials submitted by the petitioner and conducted a review of all relevant materials, and fully support Assistant District Attorney Marshard.”

According to the Boston Globe article, the Board of Bar Overseers, which acts as judge in OBC bar counsel complaints, has disciplined more than 1,300 attorneys overall since 2005.

The Board of Bar Overseers does not have Ms. Marshard on its schedule for a prehearing conference or for a hearing, according to the schedule posted on its website, which runs through March 2017.

The Times was unsuccessful reaching Ms. Marshard’s attorney, Michael Mone,  from Boston-based Esdaile, Barrett, Jacobs & Mone.

Ms. Marshard will continue her normal duties at the DA’s office while the matter is being resolved, according to Cape and Islands District Attorney spokesperson Tara Miltimore.

Ms. Marshard is a West Tisbury resident.