Disciplinary hearing begins for assistant district attorney

Laura Marshard goes before board of bar overseers for the first of five scheduled days of hearings.

Defense attorney Tim Moriarty is questioned by Elizabeth Mulvey during a hearing Wednesday before the Board of Bar Overseers. The board is reviewing allegations of prosecutorial misconduct by Assistant District Attorney Laura Marshard. - Barry Stringfellow

Updated: Cape and Islands Assistant District Attorney Laura Marshard went before the Massachusetts board of bar overseers (BBO) — the judicial office that brings disciplinary cases against lawyers in Massachusetts — Wednesday in Boston for three counts of alleged professional misconduct.

Ms. Marshard is under scrutiny for her actions in three criminal trials on Martha’s Vineyard in 2013 and 2014. The three-count complaint submitted by the Office of General Counsel (OGC) to the BBO on Sept. 6, 2016, alleges that Ms. Marshard either failed to share critical information with defense lawyers or attempted to interfere with defense witnesses.

After an opening statement by BBO counsel Stacey Best, in which she stated Ms. Marshard “did not administer justice, denied the accused their constitutional rights, and put them at risk for years in prison,” Boston-based attorney Elizabeth Mulvey, representing Ms. Marshard, dominated the rest of the morning.

In her opening statement, she said that putting life on the Vineyard in context was important for the three-person board to consider. “While most people associate the Vineyard with fried clams, ice cream, and reading a book on the beach, it isn’t a vacation place for the 15,000 hardy souls that live there,” she said. “It’s a very different dynamic and very different lifestyle. That’s important to keep in mind as we move forward. The real Martha’s Vineyard has issues you’d expect tight-knit, working class community, including a lot of drugs and a lot of alcohol.”

Ms. Mulvey said the Island dynamic had historically propagated a “clubby” atmosphere in the justice system, and Ms. Marshard was appointed to assistant district attorney for the Vineyard by District Attorney Michael O’Keefe in 2004 “because people weren’t respecting boundaries,” and also because she lived on the Island and understood the culture. “The people were clamoring for a prosecutor who was one of them,” Ms. Mulvey said. “The idea she was a rogue prosecutor is simply not true.”

Ms. Mulvey asked the board to set a high bar in their decision.

“Should you decide against her, Ms. Marshard would be the very first prosecutor ever disciplined in Massachusetts for withholding evidence,” she said. “Judges have dismissed charges for much worse; none of these [attorneys] have been disciplined.”

There was one admission of legal impropriety by Ms. Marshard — that she shouldn’t have spoken to former Ritz Cafe owner Christine Arenburg without a police officer present during the investigation of 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 an alleged knife 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 Chin of prosecutorial misconduct on the part of Ms. Marshard.

“Laura will admit she shouldn’t have met with Ms. Arenburg without a police officer present,” Ms. Mulvey said. “It’s not what she usually does. But that’s not the end of the story.”

For the entirety of the morning, Ms. Mulvey focused on count two against Ms. Marshard, which stems from an assault case in July 2014, involving a brawl at a party between the aforementioned Patrece Petersen and 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 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. She later admitted she had met with Mr. Sylvia, but said it was only to reassure him he would not be prosecuted if he testified.

Ms. Mulvey said the allegations of misconduct against Ms. Marshard were in part the result of a personal vendetta by Clerk Magistrate Liza Williamson, and that Ms. Marshard has been at odds with Ms. Williamson, and her husband, Oak Bluffs Police Lieutenant Tim Williamson, since a 2004 “domestic incident” involving Ms. Williamson’s mother.

“Laura had barely settled down as prosecutor on Martha’s Vineyard when this incident happened, and it has colored her time there since,” she said. Ms. Mulvey said that Ms. Marshard prosecuted the mother after she hit her husband over the head with a bottle. “Unfortunately for Laura, Nancy was not any local,” she said. “She was mother of the clerk of the district courts, Liza Williamson, mother-in-law of Oak Bluffs Police Officer Tim Williamson. You will hear that the clerk magistrate didn’t take the situation well.” Since the incident, Ms. Williamson has “inserted herself inappropriately” and maintained a vendetta against Ms. Marshard, Ms. Mulvey said. “On Martha’s Vineyard, summers end but grudges remain. You will hear how the grudges have flared up since then. You’ll be able to assess what was going on.”

Personal grudges aside, the count held considerably less water after Ms. Mulvey questioned Edgartown-based attorney Tim Moriarty, court-appointed defense attorney for Mr. Sylvia.

Describing Mr. Sylvia as a “frequent flyer” at the courthouse, Ms. Mulvey said Ms. Marshard was only speaking to Mr. Sylvia to assure him that he was not being charged with a crime, and he did not have to testify in the case against Mr. Petersen, per his Fifth Amendment rights. She also asserted Mr. Sylvia was not alone when he spoke to Ms. Marshard, and that Edgartown Police Officer Chris Dolby was present, which is backed up by a letter from Mr. Dolby.

Mr. Moriarty said he only found out that Ms. Marshard was talking to his client because Ms. Williamson alerted him, and that he was upset when he found out.

However, Ms. Mulvey showed court transcripts from later that day and a week later, in which Mr. Moriarty never raised his objections with the presiding judge.

“A week later, and you still hadn’t made a peep about Ms. Marshard speaking to Sylvia, nor had anybody else,” she said.

Court transcripts also showed that Mr. Sylvia corroborated Ms. Marshard’s version of the story to the judge.

Ms. Mulvey pressed Mr. Moriarty why he represented Mr. Sylvia, when his brother, Robert Moriarty, was representing Mr. Petersen — which, she said, violates the rules of professional responsibility. 

It was also established during questioning that Robert Moriarty was, at that time, in charge of setting the schedule for public defenders when brother Tim was assigned the case involving Sylvia.

“It would have been very convenient for [Robert] Moriarty and his client Mr. Petersen if Sylvia had decided not to testify,” Ms. Mulvey said. “After it became clear he was going to testify, your brother for the first time raised that Ms. Marshard had done something wrong.”

Bar Counsel Stacey Best consumed a good deal of the afternoon session questioning Robert Moriarty about the details of the bar brawl at the Ritz Cafe in Oak Bluffs in March 2013 for which Patrece Petersen was arrested, and subsequently acquitted. The painstaking questioning frequently wandered, and Ms. Best, who often struggled to keep her papers in order, had to be reeled in by chairman James Breslauer on several occasions.

The hearing is scheduled to continue Thursday morning.

Editor’s note: story was updated to correct a reporting error. It was Ms. Mulvey who said Tim Moriarty violated the rules of professional responsibility by not disclosing to his client that his brother, Robert, was representing Mr. Petersen.