Jason Petri – NY State Bar #4142733
Who: A group of law professors filed an ethics complaint in March 2022 against attorney Jason Petri, alleging that Petri engaged in misconduct while prosecuting Benjamin Waters on behalf of the Bronx District Attorney’s Office (BXDAO). The law professors filed the complaint with the Grievance Committee for the First Department Appellate Division, the body that handles ethics complaints against attorneys in the Bronx and Manhattan. The following summary is based on the complaint.
What: The ethics complaint, also known as a grievance, is based on a New York court decision, People v. Waters. According to the complaint, in the Waters case, the Bronx County Supreme Court found that prosecutor Petri violated his Brady obligations by withholding a witness’s inconsistent statements from defense counsel. The court called Petri’s misconduct “an affirmative act of deceit.”
The complaint notes that in the lead up to the murder trial, the court found that Petri learned, but did not disclose, that the prosecution’s primary witness dramatically changed his story from the testimony he gave under oath at the grand jury. The court called Petri’s tactics “trial by ambush” and ordered a mistrial. According to the complaint, at a second trial, Waters was acquitted of the charges and the civil lawsuit Waters later filed notes that he spent six years incarcerated at Rikers Island, including 360 days of solitary confinement.
What rules are involved: The ethics complaint notes that one of the most damaging forms of prosecutorial misconduct is the Brady violation—when law enforcement suppresses exculpatory or impeachment evidence. When provided in a timely and transparent fashion, Brady disclosures can permit the defense to investigate and litigate different leads, present evidence that the prosecution’s case is inaccurate or that the testimony of the prosecution’s witnesses is inaccurate or false, present evidence of the accused’s innocence to the jury, and ultimately, to protect the accused from a wrongful conviction. According to the complaint, the National Registry of Exonerations found that suppression of Brady evidence played a role in over 44 percent of known wrongful convictions and 61 percent of known wrongful convictions for murder.
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 Petri’s conduct violated the following ethical rules:
- Rule of Professional Conduct 3.8(b) requires that prosecutors make timely disclosure of evidence or information known to them that tends to negate the accused’s guilt, mitigate the degree of the offense, or reduce the sentence.
- Rules 3.4(a)(1) and 3.4(a)(3) prohibit New York attorneys from suppressing any evidence that the lawyer or client has a legal obligation to reveal or produce, or to conceal or knowingly fail to disclose that which they are required by law to disclose.
- 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 their 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 Petri’s law license). It also calls for a broader investigation into other cases prosecuted by the same prosecutor, and to determine whether BXDAO’s supervising and managing attorneys complied with their duties under Rule 5.1 of Professional Conduct.
Unfortunately, the Grievance Committee has not informed the professors or the public 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.
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.