Grievance Against Rosemary Chao

Who: A group of law professors filed an ethics complaint in May 2021 against attorney Rosemary Chao, alleging Chao committed professional misconduct in multiple cases she prosecuted 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 four Appellate Division cases. The complaint alleges that in all four cases, Chao committed misconduct. The misconduct included tactics such as improper questioning, denigrating the defense, referencing facts not in evidence, misstating testimony, and making prejudicial statements to the jury.

According to the complaint, the court in People v. Scott found that Chao improperly cross-examined defendant Scott about his silence upon arrest in the 2008 case, but deemed it to be harmless error. The complaint alleges that in 2009, Chao prosecuted People v. Collins and on appeal, Chao’s own colleagues—the prosecutors who litigated the Collins case in the Appellate Division—conceded that she had committed misconduct, though the Appellate Division found that “any error resulting from the prosecutor’s use of the defendant’s prearrest silence for impeachment purposes was harmless.” 

The grievance alleges that in 2013, Chao prosecuted People v. Davis, where the Appellate Division reversed the conviction on other grounds, but nonetheless determined that Chao “made improper summation comments regarding the failure of the defendant to communicate certain information to the police at the time of his apprehension.” That same year, the complaint alleges that in prosecuting People v. Brisco, the court found Chao’s summation argument improper in multiple ways, including that Chao denigrated the accused and the defense, referenced facts not in evidence, misstated “critical” testimony by a defense witness, and appealed to the jury’s sympathies. The Brisco Appellate Division found this misconduct to have such a “cumulative effect” that it deprived Brisco of his constitutional right to a fair trial, requiring reversal of 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 Chao’s conduct violated the following ethical rules:

  • Rule 8.4(d) of the New York Rules of Professional Conduct prohibits attorneys engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.
  • Rule 8.4(h) prohibits attorneys from engaging in any other conduct 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 disbar Chao (revoke her license to practice law). 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.