Officials in the district attorney's office denied that prosecutorial
misconduct was frequent or went unpunished. They said that in the 72
cases that Mr. Rudin highlighted, sanctions might have been issued
that were not reflected in the prosecutors' personnel records.
Mr. Rudin's client, Alberto Ramos, won a $5 million settlement this
month, 11 years after he was released from prison because of a
wrongful conviction in a child sex abuse case. In the 1992 reversal,
the judge found that the trial prosecutor had withheld evidence that
would have exonerated Mr. Ramos. He later filed a civil suit, but to
win damages from a jury he needed to prove that the prosecutor's
actions were caused by a policy or practice of misconduct in the
district attorney's office. The city settled on Sept. 4.
The withholding of exculpatory evidence and other forms of
prosecutorial misconduct are problems in courts nationwide, legal
experts say. There is disagreement about whether offending
prosecutors are sanctioned often or severely enough, but the lack of
disciplinary action by the Bronx district attorney in dozens of cases
where misconduct was cited - with some prosecutors, repeatedly - is
evidence of a policy of tolerance, Mr. Rudin said.
"Here you have people with the power to destroy lives, and when they
do it by withholding evidence, there is no sanction," he said.
Officials in the Bronx district attorney's office said that the
citings were not conclusive evidence that misconduct occurred
willfully, or that a pattern existed, given the high volume of felony
cases tried in the 21-year period - about 100,000.
Others in the legal profession said that misconduct was sometimes a
necessary part of the learning curve. "Everybody makes mistakes - if
we have a zero-tolerance policy in the legal profession, everyone is
going to get disbarred," said Joshua K. Marquis, district attorney of
Astoria, Ore., and a member of the board of directors of the National
District Attorneys Association.
The cases that Mr. Rudin highlighted involved 74 prosecutors - 14 of
whom were cited for misconduct in several cases. In one such case, a
prosecutor who was hired in 1978 and retired in 1984 was cited for
prosecutorial misconduct in the appellate decisions of five
He was singled out in a manslaughter reversal in 1985 for "confusing
and misleading the jury." In that ruling, the judge recalled the
prosecutor's cited misconduct in another manslaughter case that had
been reversed and concluded that his conduct and actions "can only be
viewed as willful and deliberate."
But according to his personnel records, his salary continued to rise
steadily until he retired, and included merit raises and bonuses.
Eighteen of the 72 cases involved prosecutors withholding evidence
that might have helped the defendant. All 18 cases were
Among them was People v. Lantigua, a murder case that went to trial
in 1992. The case depended on a sole witness who allegedly saw the
murder from her window. Prosecutors argued that she was alone and had
no distraction, when the witness had confided to one of the
prosecutors before the trial that she had "snuck out" to meet a
The judge said the failure to disclose the conversation was
"especially egregious." The prosecutors were never sanctioned,
according to their personnel records, Mr. Rudin said.
Mr. Ramos was 21 years old and a part-time employee at the Concourse
Day Care Center in the Bronx when, in 1984, he was arrested and
charged with raping a 5-year-old girl whose class he helped
supervise. While in prison, Mr. Ramos, 40, said he endured beatings,
was sodomized and tried to commit suicide several times.
"Every day for me was hell," Mr. Ramos said in an interview at his
attorney's office. Mr. Ramos, who recently left the military and
wants to be a chef, said he did not want to talk about the millions
"I don't think it's really about the money," said Mr. Ramos, sitting
upright in a crisply ironed blue shirt and tie, his hands folded
tightly in front of him. "I think it's about an injustice done to a
minority who didn't have the funds of someone who was better
Mr. Ramos's conviction largely rested, Mr. Rudin said, on the
testimony of one of the doctors, who said the girl would not have
been able to describe in such detail what happened to her if she had
not been abused.
What the jury never heard was testimony from day care center workers
that the girl had masturbated frequently in class and had extensive
knowledge of sexual acts prior to the alleged abuse. They also never
heard testimony that the child had told city social workers that Mr.
Ramos had done nothing to her.
The trial prosecutor, Diana Farrell, had the obligation to make this
evidence known to the defense, and failed to do so, according to the
1992 reversal. Officials of the district attorney's office said they
were not at liberty to discuss whether any disciplinary action was
Ms. Farrell. Repeated efforts to get in touch with Ms. Farrell, who
is no longer with the district attorney's office, were