Grievance Against John Theodorellis

WhoA group of law professors filed an ethics complaint in March 2022 against attorney John Theodorellis, alleging that Theodorellis engaged in misconduct while prosecuting Michael Calabria on behalf of the Kings County District Attorney’s Office (KCDAO). The law professors filed the complaint with the Grievance Committee for the 2nd, 11th, and 13th Judicial Districts, the body that handles ethics complaints against attorneys in Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. The following summary is based on the complaint.

WhatThe ethics complaint, also known as a grievance, is based on a New York court decision, People v. Calabria. According to the complaint, in the Calabria case, the Court of Appeals found that prosecutor Theodorellis behaved improperly in multiple ways and reversed Calabria’s conviction due to the “cumulative effect” of Theodorellis’s various acts of misconduct.

The complaint alleges that the Court found that Theodorellis “completely disregarded” the trial judge’s pretrial ruling by asking the defense an improper question in front of the jury, improperly suggesting to the jury that the defense had tried to hide evidence, and prejudicing Calabria’s right to testify by implying that Calabria had no choice but to testify. Further, the court found that Theodorellis “deliberately” commented on a newspaper article that portrayed Calabria’s parents as drug dealers and even flashed a copy to the jury, which the trial judge found “absolutely contemptuous.” 

What rules are involved:  The complaint notes that 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 alleges that Theodorellis’s conduct violated the following then-applicable ethical rule:

  • Rule DR 1-102 (from 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 reflecting adversely on their fitness to practice law. 

What can be done about it: The law professors’ complaint calls on the Grievance Committee to investigate and issue public discipline, including  suspending Theodorellis’s law license. It also calls for a broader investigation into other cases prosecuted by the same prosecutor, and to determine whether KCDAO supervising and managing attorneys complied with their duties under Rule 5.1 of Professional Conduct.

Update: As of January 1, 2024, the Grievance Committee has not informed the complainants whether there was (or will be) an investigation, what any investigation revealed, and whether discipline was (or will be) imposed as a result of this alleged misconduct. Deprived of such information, the public has no way to evaluate whether this government body is doing its job. We call on the Grievance Committee to make its proceedings and findings in this matter transparent to the public.

Any member of the public is able to see an attorney’s record of public discipline on the Attorney Detail Report.

Note: This is a summary based on the grievance, click on the grievance below for more detail. The grievance authors do not have personal knowledge of any of the facts or circumstances of the attorney or case(s) mentioned; the grievance is based on court opinions, briefs and/or other documents cited therein.