Grievance Against Bridget Fleming

Who: A group of law professors filed an ethics complaint in March 2022 against attorney Bridget Fleming, alleging that Fleming engaged in misconduct while prosecuting Patrick Griffin on behalf of the District Attorney’s Office of New York County (DANY). The law professors filed the complaint with the Grievance Committee for the First Judicial Department, the body that handles ethics complaints against attorneys in Manhattan and the Bronx. The following summary is based on the complaint.

What: The ethics complaint, also known as a grievance, is based on a New York court decision, People v. Griffin. In the Griffin case, according to the complaint, the Appellate Division found that Fleming committed “intentional misconduct” by violating the trial court’s explicit order barring certain inflammatory questions.

According to the grievance, the court also found that in violating the court’s order, 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 the reversal of his conviction. Following the reversal, Griffin was acquitted in a second trial.

What rules are involved: The ethics complaint notes that when an attorney ignores an explicit court order, it is serious and can even constitute contempt in certain circumstances. The complaint also explains that prosecutors may not attempt to inflame jurors’ passions to win cases.

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 Fleming’s conduct violated the following then-applicable ethical rule:

  • 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 law professors’ complaint calls on the Grievance Committee to investigate and issue public discipline, including suspending Fleming’s law license. It also calls for a broader investigation into other cases prosecuted by the same prosecutor, and to determine whether the District Attorney’s Office of New York County’s 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.