Grievance Against Rachel Buchter

Complaint filed on: May 3, 2021

Who: Law professors filed grievances against attorney Rachel E. Buchter in 2021 and 2023 alleging she committed prosecutorial misconduct in separate matters. The law professors filed both complaints with the Grievance Committee for Second, Eleventh and Thirteenth Judicial Districts, the body that handles ethics complaints against attorneys in Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island.

The 2021 grievance noted that Buchter had been recently identified as the Bureau Chief of the Felony Trials III Bureau at the Queens District Attorney’s Office. According to the 2023 grievance, another, more recent press release also identified Buchter as the Bureau Chief.

The following summary is based on the complaints.

May 2021 Complaint: The ethics complaint, also known as a grievance, is based on a court decision in People v. Thompson. According to the complaint, Buchter committed misconduct in closing argument in People v. Thompson, when she improperly argued that Thompson had an obligation or an option to prove his innocence by submitting to DNA testing. The complaint notes that the Appellate Division found that Buchter’s argument improperly shifted the burden of proof from the state to the defendant.

March 2023 Complaint: The complaint is based on a court decision, People v. Hall. According to the complaint, in the case of People v. Hall, the Appellate Division held that Buchter “exercised her peremptory challenges in a discriminatory manner” by removing a Black potential juror. The complaint notes that the court further concluded that Buchter’s nonracial explanations for striking the Black juror were pretextual and that her improper removal of the juror violated Batson v. Kentucky, requiring reversal of the convictions for robbery and criminal possession of a weapon.

What Rules Are Involved: Prosecutors wield immense power, the power to seek punishment on behalf of the state, and should be held to the highest ethical standards.

The 2023 grievance alleges that Buchter’s conduct violated the following ethical rules:

  • Rules 1-102 (from the Code of Professional Responsibility, later replaced by the Rules of Professional Conduct) prohibited lawyers from engaging in conduct that was prejudicial to the administration of justice or adversely reflected on the lawyer’s fitness to practice law.

The complaint further notes that the Grievance Committee should investigate Buchter’s pretextual reason for striking the juror, as it arguably constitutes dishonesty in violation Rule DR 7-102, which prohibited attorneys from knowingly making a false statement of law or fact and Rule DR 1-102, which prohibited attorneys from engaging “in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.”

The 2021 grievance alleges that Buchter’s conduct violated the following rules:

  • Rules 8.4(d) and 8.4(h), which 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: Both complaints call on the Grievance Committee to investigate and issue serious public discipline. The 2023 complaint also calls for a broader investigation into the trials conducted by the Queens District Attorney’s Office from 1990 to the present, including an examination of the prosecutor’s jury selection notes, in light of the racist and sexist notes revealed in another Queens case, People v. Morant and Valdez. Finally, both complaints call for an investigation into other cases prosecuted by the same prosecutor and to determine whether QDAO 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 grievances, click on the grievances 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.