Jonathan Selkowe – NY Reg#4792040
Who: A group of law professors filed a grievance in March 2023 against attorney Jonathan Selkowe, alleging that Selkowe engaged in misconduct while prosecuting Christopher Brown on behalf of the Queens District Attorney’s Office (QDAO). The complaint was filed with the Grievance Committee for Second, Eleventh and Thirteenth Judicial Districts, the body that handles ethics complaints against attorneys in Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. The following summary is based on the complaint.
What: The ethics complaint, also known as a grievance, is based on a court decision in People v. Brown.
According to the complaint, in the Brown case, the Appellate Division held that Selkowe excluded two Black women who were prospective jurors on the basis of their race in the trial of Christopher Brown, a Black man. The complaint notes that during jury selection itself, the Supreme Court, Queens County, concluded that Selkowe had exercised a peremptory challenge against still another Black woman, juror No. 15, on the basis of her race. In reversing the conviction, the Appellate Division noted, “[in addition to striking Black juror No. 15], the record demonstrates that the race-neutral reasons for challenging prospective jurors Nos. 2 and 8 were not applied equally to exclude other prospective jurors who were not black, even though those other jurors had answered the subject hypothetical questions in the same way that prospective jurors Nos. 2 and 8 had answered.” According to the complaint, then, Selkowe violated Batson v. Kentucky three times in the course of a single trial, all against Black women and that Selkowe’s proffered reasons for striking the Black women were mere “pretext.”
Why it’s wrong: The complaint notes that for many years, the United States’ long-held tradition of jury trials mostly meant juries of property-owning white male citizens sitting in judgment of anyone asserting their right to a jury trial. Race, gender, religion, and property ownership were often accepted as reasonable means to decide who could, and who could not, decide the fates of Americans as a juror. Despite over a century of litigation declaring discriminatory jury strikes unconstitutional, the practice among prosecutors continues.
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 Selkowe’s conduct violated the following ethical rules:
- Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(d) prohibits lawyers from engaging in conduct inherently prejudicial to the administration of justice; and
- Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(h) prohibits lawyers from engaging in conduct that adversely reflects on the attorney’s fitness.
The complaint calls for the Grievance Committee to investigate the conduct under Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(g), barring “unlawful discrimination.”
The complaint further notes that Selkowe’s pretextual reason for the strikes arguably constitutes dishonesty in violation of Rule 3.3(a)(1) (knowingly making a false statement of fact to a tribunal), Rule 4.1 (knowingly making a false statement of fact to a person other than a client—here, the trial judge), Rule 8.4(b) (engaging in illegal conduct that adversely reflects on the lawyer’s honesty or trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer), and Rule 8.4(c) (engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation).
What can be done about it: The law professors’ complaint calls on the Grievance Committee to investigate and issue serious public discipline. It 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, the complaint calls 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.
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.