Grievance Against Jesse Sligh

Who: A group of law professors filed an ethics complaint in May 2021 against Jesse Sligh, alleging Sligh committed misconduct while prosecuting Clinton Turner on behalf of the Queens District Attorney’s Office (QDAO). The complaint was filed with the Grievance Committee for the Second, Eleventh and Thirteenth Judicial Districts, the body that handles ethics complaints against attorneys in Queens. The following summary is based on the complaint.

What: The ethics complaint, also known as a grievance, is based on a federal district court case, Turner v. Schriver. According to the complaint, the federal district court held that Sligh committed a Brady violation when he failed to provide the criminal record of the complainant, leading to the jury’s reliance on false testimony. The complaint alleges that the accused, Clinton Turner, languished in prison for 10 years as a result. 

According to the complaint, at trial, Sligh elicited testimony from the complainant that the latter had not been arrested or convicted of a crime—and later noted the complainant’s “lack of a criminal record” in summation, bolstering the complainant’s credibility. But, according to the complaint, the complainant did have a criminal record, which the court noted “was readily available to the prosecution had it made the most modest effort.” In fact, the complainant had an “extensive” criminal record, including “at least six arrests in Queens County” before the trial. According to the complaint, the District Court held that Sligh violated Turner’s due process rights—twice. First, Sligh violated Brady when he failed to obtain and disclose the complainant’s criminal record—actions that resulted in a “verdict unworthy of confidence.” Second, Sligh also violated Turner’s due process rights when he elicited false testimony from the complainant—testimony that Sligh “should have known was false.” 

What rules were 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 Sligh’s conduct violated the following ethical rules:

  • Rule DR 1-102 (from the Code of Professional Responsibility, later replaced by the Rules of Professional Conduct) prohibited attorneys from engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation, that was “prejudicial to the administration of justice,” or that adversely reflected on their fitness to practice law.
  • Rule DR 7-103(b) required prosecutors to “make timely disclosure…of the existence of evidence, known to [him] or other government lawyer, that tends to negate the guilt of the accused, mitigate the degree of the offense or reduce the punishment.”
  • Rule DR 7-102(a)(3) and 7-109(a) required disclosure of, and prohibited knowing concealment of, evidence. 

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