Grievance Against Lauren Traum

Who: A group of law professors filed a grievance in March 2023 against attorney Lauren Traum, alleging that Traum engaged in misconduct while prosecuting People v. Bell on behalf of the Kings County District Attorney’s Office. The complaint was filed with the Grievance Committee for Second, Eleventh and Thirteenth Judicial Districts, the body that handles ethics complaints against attorneys in Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. The following summary is based on the complaint.

What: The ethics complaint, also known as a grievance, is based on a court decision, People v. Bell

According to the complaint, in the Bell case, the Appellate Division found that Traum improperly removed two Black prospective jurors on the basis of race, then offered pretextual justifications for the strikes. The court specifically held that Traum “exercised her peremptory challenges in a discriminatory manner” and that the facially race-neutral reasons she proffered “were pretextual.”  The Appellate Division explained, “the facially race-neutral reason advanced by the prosecutor for employing a peremptory challenge [against the first juror] was pretextual. The prosecutor did not offer any explanation for how employment as a church deacon related to the factual circumstances of the case or qualifications to serve as a juror. . . . [As to the second juror], [i]n light of the prosecutor’s failure to exercise a peremptory challenge to strike the white juror who actually stated that she would have trouble ‘deciding the outcome of someone else’s life,’ the prosecutor’s reason for challenging the second black prospective juror was pretextual.” The Bell opinion did not include an analysis of the 12 other prospective Black jurors removed by the prosecution via peremptory challenges, pointing out, “For the purposes of equal protection, the constitutional violation is the exclusion of any blacks solely because of their race.” Due to this discrimination in violation of the Constitution, the court reversed the manslaughter conviction. 

What rules are involved: The complaint notes that for many years, the United States’ long-held tradition of jury trials mostly meant juries of property-owning white male citizens sitting in judgment of anyone asserting their right to a jury trial. Race, gender, religion, and property ownership were often accepted as reasonable means to decide who could, and who could not, decide the fates of Americans as a juror. Despite over a century of litigation declaring discriminatory jury strikes unconstitutional, the practice among prosecutors continues.

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 Traum’s conduct violated the following ethical rules:

  • Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(d) prohibits lawyers from engaging in conduct inherently prejudicial to the administration of justice; and
  • Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(h) prohibits lawyers from engaging in conduct that adversely reflects on the attorney’s fitness.

The complaint calls for the Grievance Committee to investigate the conduct under Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(g), barring “unlawful discrimination.”

The complaint further notes that Traum’s pretextual reasons for the strikes arguably constitutes dishonesty in violation of Rule 3.3(a)(1) (knowingly making a false statement of fact to a tribunal), Rule 4.1 (knowingly making a false statement of fact to a person other than a client—here, the trial judge), Rule 8.4(b) (engaging in illegal conduct that adversely reflects on the lawyer’s honesty or trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer),  and Rule 8.4(c) (engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation). 

What can be done about it: The law professors’ complaint calls on the Grievance Committee to investigate and issue serious public discipline. It also calls for a broader investigation into this attorney’s other cases and whether this attorney’s supervisors complied with their duties under Rule 5.1. 

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.