Grievance Against Patrick O’Connor

Who: A group of law professors filed an ethics complaint in May 2021 against attorney Patrick O’Connor, alleging O’Connor engaged in misconduct while prosecuting 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 Queens. The following summary is based on the complaint.

What: The ethics complaint, also known as a grievance, alleges that O’Connor’s misconduct led to the reversal of two verdicts, in People v. Negron and People v. Singleton

According to the complaint, in People v. Negron, the Court of Appeals found that O’Connor withheld crucial evidence suggesting someone else, not Mr. Negron, could have been responsible for the attempted murder. Upon remand to the trial court, the Queens Supreme Court denounced O’Connor for his “utterly misleading” conduct in the case. The Queens Supreme Court also noted that O’Connor was “aware that there was significantly more evidence pointing away from the defendant’s identity as the perpetrator of the crimes than there was pointing towards it,” but he “failed to present any of this exculpatory evidence” to the grand jury.  Mincing no words, the court dismissed the case, concluding that O’Connor’s “deception” in front of the grand jury by withholding “an unusual volume of exculpatory evidence” was “indisputably deliberate.”

The complaint alleges that in the Appellate Division case People v. Singleton, O’Connor made several improper statements and repeatedly violated the judge’s orders. The Appellate Division found that O’Connor engaged in “deliberate defiance” of the judge’s orders, requiring reversal of the conviction. O’Connor “unjustifiabl[ly] circumvent[ed]” the constitutional Bruton rule and repeatedly disobeyed the judge’s orders, committing misconduct in opening statement and closing argument, leading the Appellate Division to reverse 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 O’Connor’s conduct violated the following ethical rules:

  • Rule 3.8(b) of the New York Rules of Professional Conduct requires a prosecutor to make “timely disclosure…of the existence of evidence, known to the prosecutor or other government lawyer, that tends to negate the guilt of the accused, mitigate the degree of the offense or reduce the punishment.” The complaint also notes that Rule 3.4(a)(1) and (a)(3) similarly require disclosure, and prohibit knowing concealment, of evidence.
  • Rules 3.3(a)(1) and (3), attorneys must not knowingly make a false statement to the court or use evidence they know to be false.
  • Rule 8.4 requires that an attorney not engage in conduct “involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation” or that otherwise reflects adversely 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 disbarment (revoking O’Connor’s law license). 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.