Eight weeks after it began, the prosecutorial misconduct hearing for Cape and Islands Assistant District Attorney Laura Marshard ended on Monday afternoon in Boston.
The hearing, which began May 3, has been conducted by the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers (BBO), an independent board established by the Supreme Judicial Court to investigate complaints against lawyers. In a three count complaint, Bar Counsel Stacey Best alleged Ms. Marshard intentionally withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense, met with a defense witness without his attorney present and failed to correct false testimony before a grand jury, in three separate trials on Martha’s Vineyard.
“That’s the longest five day trial I’ve ever had,” board chairman James Breslauer quipped at the conclusion of the eighth day of testimony.
Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe took the stand under direct questioning by Ms. Marshard’s attorney Elizabeth Mulvey.
He said his office sets a high bar when it comes to ethics, which includes a mandatory yearly ethics course and frequent discussions amongst the staff. He said that Ms. Marshard has worked “competently and ethically” in his office and to his knowledge in her previous jobs in Suffolk County and in Colorado.
“I give the benefit of the doubt that our lawyers understand what their obligations are,” he said. “As long as they can explain what they did within a certain parameter, I’m going to stand by them. In 35 years we’ve never had canon of ethics that has been breached. I think we have more judges on the bench per capita than probably any other district in the state. I’m proud of that…I’m surprised at this [hearing] frankly.”
Mr. O’Keefe said when he hired Ms. Marshard in 2004, he thought she could fill a void at the Dukes County Courthouse, where typically attorneys from the Cape would have to commute which often led to postponements due to weather, something he’d experienced just last Tuesday.
“When an opportunity presented itself to have a qualified attorney to do that work on the Vineyard it seemed like a good idea,” he said.
Mr. O’Keefe said he was first alerted to problems at the courthouse by former West Tisbury police chief Beth Toomey, who indicated there was a problem between the clerk magistrate Liza Williamson and Ms. Marshard. “In her opinion it stemmed from the prosecution of clerk’s mother,” he said. “I watched what was going on there. I thought it would iron itself out over time, but here we are.”
Mr. O‘Keefe acknowledged he’d received a letter from Ms. Williamson about Ms. Marshard’s sloppy storage of confidential documents at Dukes County Courthouse.
“There are space constraints to say the least in that courthouse,” he said. “It was a letter designed to put Laura in a bad light.”
Mr. O’Keefe said his office took the allegations of misconduct against Ms. Marshard “very seriously” and asked First Assistant District Attorney Brian Glenny to investigate. “I remember him telling me there was nothing,” he said.
Ms. Marshard did err by interviewing Ritz Cafe owner Christine Arenburg without a witness present, Mr. O’Keefe acknowledged. One of the charges by bar counsel is that Ms. Marshard withheld exculpatory evidence relating to an attempted murder charge against Petrece Peterson from a brawl at the Oak Bluffs bar. Mr. Peterson was later acquitted.
“When I say that I stand behind Laura, that includes her own admission that if she had it to do over again, speaking to a witness who had already given a statement to police and to a private investigator for the defense, she would have had someone, maybe a police officer, with her. I think that’s wise to do as a general proposition. There isn’t a [legal] requirement. It’s just a good idea.”
Referring to Ms. Arenburg’s shifting accounts of the Ritz brawl, in closing arguments Ms. Mulvey said every trial lawyer who’s tried more than five cases has had a witness who contradicts their testimony on the stand. “It’s horrible but it happens because witnesses are human,” she said.
In her closing argument, as she has in every session of the proceedings, Ms. Mulvey said the accusations of misconduct stem from a personal vendetta by Ms. Williamson and legal gamesmanship by attorney Robert Moriarty.
“Bar counsel has conferred with Mr. Moriarty and Ms. Williamson on more occasions that any can count,” she said. “Now that the dust has settled, it’s painfully apparent that bar counsel had no intent to proving two of the three counts and there wasn’t anything behind the first count either.”
Ms. Mulvey said Mr. Moriarty’s most telling testimony was when told the board, “The judge can hurt you, but the clerk can kill you.”
“I would suggest what we’ve seen that the clerk has tried to kill Laura Marshard professionally,” Ms. Mulvey said.
In her closing argument, Ms. Best said Ms. Marshard showed a history of bias against Petrece Petersen, whom she prosecuted in two trials. “She continually tried to besmirch him with his criminal record,” she said. “Ms. Marshard was so bent on getting Petersen that she overstepped her bounds…Prosecutors are administers of justice. We all count on a system of rules that give us confidence in verdicts, and her disregard of the accused strikes at the heart of that system.”
Ms. Best also called Ms. Mulvey and by proxy Ms. Marshard, to task for putting Ms. Williamson’s parents on the witness list.
“If you have doubt about momentary missteps, look at how she defended herself,” she said. “She referred to ‘Williamson mafia,’ and attempted to besmirch and embarrass Ms. Williamson. Attempting to subpoena her family was completely and wholly irrelevant.”
Ms. Best also repeated the allegation that Ms. Marshard made an egregious breach of ethics when she spoke to a potential witness in a felony trial, without his attorney present.
Mr. Breslauer asked attorneys from both sides to have proposed finding of fact that includes the law to the board by Aug. 4.