Bridget Fleming – NY State Bar # 2497337
Who: Law professors filed a grievance regarding Bridget Fleming’s serious misconduct while prosecuting People v. Griffin on behalf of the District Attorney’s Office of New York County (DANYC). Despite this misconduct, at the time of the complaint, Fleming had no record of public discipline in the New York Attorney Detail Report.
What they did: In People v. Griffin, the Appellate Division found that Fleming intentionally violated the trial court’s explicit order preventing certain inflammatory questions. The court also found that in doing so, Fleming’s questions risked inflaming the jury’s passions, making it “impossible” for them to deliberate dispassionately. The court found that Fleming’s misconduct was so egregious that it violated Griffin’s constitutional right to a fair trial, contributing to a reversal of his conviction. Following the reversal, Griffin was acquitted in a second trial.
Why it’s wrong: In a trial, the judge determines what topics and evidence will be permitted, to ensure that the trial focuses on the actual charges and complies with the law, including following evidentiary rules and protecting the accused’s due process rights. Attorneys are required to follow the court’s evidentiary rulings. It is also a long-standing principle that prosecutors may not attempt to try to influence jurors’ passions to win cases. As far back as 1899, the New York Court of Appeals cautioned prosecutors against appealing to “prejudice” or seeking conviction “through the aid of passion, sympathy or resentment.” Jurors are supposed to make decisions based on the evidence.
Prosecutors wield immense power, the power to seek punishment on behalf of the state, and should be held to the highest ethical standards. The grievance identifies the following then-applicable ethical rule that Fleming’s conduct likely violated:
- Rule DR 1-102 of the Code of Professional Responsibility (later replaced by the Rules of Professional Conduct) prohibited attorneys from engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice or in engaging in any conduct that adversely reflects on their fitness to practice law.
What can be done about it: The grievance calls for the committee to investigate and issue public discipline, including suspension of Fleming’s law license. It also calls for a broader investigation into other cases prosecuted by the same prosecutor, and to determine whether DANYC’s supervising and managing attorneys complied with their duties under Rule 5.1 of Professional Conduct.
Note: This is a summary based on the grievance, see the grievance for more detail and context. The grievance authors do not have personal knowledge of any of the facts or circumstances of the attorney or the cases mentioned; the grievance is based entirely on court opinions, briefs and/or other documents cited therein.