A defense lawyer this week blasted the Clackamas County District Attorney’s Office for an alleged pattern of failing to turn over information in criminal cases that may favor defendants, bucking a fundamental constitutional obligation.
The attorney, John Henry Hingson, represents a man charged in a drug crime and says the Sheriff’s Office won’t turn over personnel information for the deputy who investigated the case.
In an unusual series of motions, Hingson accuses the prosecutor’s office of a history of ignoring state and federal discovery statutes, a basic concept in criminal law.
Hingson blamed the Sheriff’s Office for keeping information about the misconduct of police officials from prosecutors, yet said the district attorney ultimately is responsible for making sure relevant information gets to the defendant.
He called the issue a “constitutional crisis” and asked the court to intervene by taking the extraordinary step of placing the sheriff and district attorney under oath and ordering them to agree to a series of instructions regarding the disclosure of information in criminal cases.
Tung Yin, a professor at Lewis & Clark Law School, called Hingson’s motions “an attack upon the integrity of the DA.”
“It’s not saying the system didn’t work in this one case,” he said. “It’s saying the system doesn’t work at all. And the reason is the DA has either given up or doesn’t care or is afraid to push back against the sheriff’s refusal to let the DA’s office make the call on these discovery issues.”
District Attorney John Foote issued a statement Friday saying his office has a “proven public track record” of acting independently and meeting its legal obligations to defendants.
“Mr. Hingson’s accusations are just that: accusations without any facts to support them,” said Foote, adding that the claims are an attack on the integrity of the lawyers who work for him. “He will get his opportunity to provide whatever facts he claims to have in a public courtroom to a judge. So far he has provided none.”
In the felony drug case, Hingson said the prosecutor “intentionally refused to disclose” information about the deputy’s background because the office didn’t have access to Sheriff’s Office personnel records.
The Sheriff’s Office, Hingson said, also refused to disclose the information, arguing that the deputy’s personnel file is confidential and not relevant to the case. A lawyer for Clackamas County reviewed the deputy’s file and concluded nothing in it was relevant to the case.
Hingson argues that not releasing the information violates so-called the Brady law named for the 55-year-old landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brady v. Maryland, which requires such disclosures.
Foote and Sheriff Craig Roberts have tangled publicly over the issue of misconduct by deputies or supervisors.
Foote has publicly criticized Roberts for failing to alert him when sheriff’s officials are under an investigation that could lead to criminal charges, as is the practice in the Portland Police Bureau.
Roberts, meanwhile, has said his office has notified prosecutors of multiple instances of investigations involving police officials. Roberts and a lawyer for the county didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
— Noelle Crombie