Grievance Against Denise Tirino

Who: A group of law professors filed an ethics complaint in May 2021 against attorney Denise Tirino, alleging that Tirino engaged in misconduct while prosecuting Cedric Simpson and Spencer Sands in separate cases on behalf of the Queens District Attorney’s Office (QDAO). The complaint was filed with the Grievance Committee for the Second, Eleventh & Thirteenth Judicial Districts, the body that handles ethics complaints against attorneys in the Queens. The following summary is based on the complaint.

What: The ethics complaint, also known as a grievance, is based on two Appellate Division cases, People v. Simpson and People v. Sands

According to the complaint, in Simpson, the Appellate Division found that Tirino made improper remarks in summation about the defendant’s pre-arrest silence. In Sands, the Appellate Division found that Tirino violated the trial court’s explicit pretrial ruling by making a false claim about the purpose for which evidence was admitted. In each case, the court nonetheless affirmed the conviction.

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 Tirino’s conduct violated the following New York Rules of Professional Conduct:

  • Rule 3.3(a)(1) orders that “[a] lawyer shall not knowingly [] make a false statement of fact or law to a tribunal…”
  • Rule 8.4(c) prohibits an attorney from “engag[ing] in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.”
  • Rules 8.4(d) and 8.4(h) prohibit a lawyer from engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice or that adversely reflects on the lawyer’s fitness as a lawyer.

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.