Grievance Against Therese Lendino

Who: A group of law professors filed an ethics complaint in May 2021 against attorney Therese Lendino, alleging that Lendino engaged in misconduct while prosecuting Eric Jenkins 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 a Federal District Court and Second Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Jenkins v. Artuz. According to the complaint, Lendino relied on and emphasized testimony she knew was false to win a case where Eric Jenkins was facing the prospect of life in prison.

The Second Circuit ruled that “ADA Lendino’s attempt to hide [a key witness’s] plea agreement from the jury and to use the false impression of its absence to bolster his credibility leaves us with no doubt that her behavior violated Jenkins’s due process rights.” The complaint alleges that Lendino bolstered the key witness’s credibility by misrepresenting her intentions to the court, failing to correct what she knew to be false testimony by the witness, attempting to block the defense from correcting the false testimony, and reinforcing the false testimony through re-direct questioning. In closing argument, the court found that Lendino “falsely suggest[ed] the absence of a deal between [the witness] and the prosecution” which “plainly sharpened the prejudice resulting from the use of [the witness’] initial untruthful testimony.” The Court reversed Jenkins’ conviction because of Lendino’s actions.

What rules are involved: The ethics complaint notes that prosecutors may not mislead the court or jury and notes that multiple prohibitions on prosecutorial misconduct relate to dishonesty. Because they are representatives of the state, not lawyers for an individual, prosecutors possess a “special duty” not to mislead a judge, jury, or defense counsel. In choosing to suspend former prosecutor Claude Stuart for making misleading statements to the court, the Appellate Division noted in Matter of Stuart that such conduct “strikes at the heart of his credibility as a prosecutor and an officer of the court.” 

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 Lendino’s conduct violated the following ethical rules:

  • Rule DR 7-102(a)(4) (from the Code of Professional Responsibility, later replaced by the Rules of Professional Conduct) prohibited attorneys from knowingly using perjured testimony or false evidence.
  • Rule DR 1-102 prohibited attorneys from engaging “in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation,” from engaging in conduct that was prejudicial to the administration of justice, or engaging in any other conduct that adversely reflected on their fitness to practice law.

What can be done about it: The law professors’ complaint calls for the Grievance Committee to investigate and issue public discipline, including disbarment (revoking Lendino’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. The grievance also asks the Committee to identify any prosecutors trained and/or supervised by Lendino and determine whether instances of prosecutorial misconduct can also be found in their work as prosecutors.

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.