Kyle Reeves – NY State Bar #2343911
Brooklyn & Staten Island
Who: A group of law professors filed an ethics complaint in March 2022 against attorney Kyle Reeves, alleging that Reeves engaged in misconduct while prosecuting Jabbar Washington on behalf of the Kings County District Attorney’s Office (KCDAO) and Asim Martinez on behalf of the Richmond County District Attorney’s Office (RCDAO). The grievance also calls for an investigation into Reeves’s conduct in a third case, the prosecution of Travis Ragsdale on behalf of the KCDAO. The law professors filed the complaint with the Grievance Committee for the 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.
According to the complaint, despite the fact that the KCDAO itself found Reeves to have committed misconduct in cross-examination, at the time of the complaint, the Kings County Criminal Bar Association still offered Reeves’s Effective Cross-examination Techniques online in its Continuing Legal Education (CLE) library. The complaint notes that at the time the complaint was filed, Reeves’s website claimed that he had conducted hundreds of legal training courses for other lawyers and was a co-author of “Winning Trial Strategies,” which the site claimed was “considered by many to be the preeminent guidebook for New York state prosecutors.”
What: The ethics complaint, also known as a grievance, is based on documents from the court and KCDAO regarding People v. Washington, and a New York court decision, People v. Martinez.
According to the complaint, Reeves prosecuted Jabbar Washington on robbery and murder charges, ultimately obtaining a conviction at trial in 1997. Washington was imprisoned until his release in 2017, when the KCDAO itself agreed to reverse Washington’s conviction. At the hearing, the KCDAO said that Reeves intentionally withheld exculpatory evidence to put “the defense at a disadvantage,” as well as “intentionally and improperly” questioned witnesses. According to the ethics complaint, Kings County prosecutors again addressed the case under the pseudonym “Zander Wright” in its 426 Years Report regarding wrongful convictions in Brooklyn. For reasons unknown to the grievance authors, this KCDAO 2020 report stated that it could not determine whether Reeves had withheld the exculpatory information. But the report maintained that Reeves was “deceptive” when he elicited “intentionally misleading testimony.”
Additionally, the complaint is based on the Appellate Division’s finding of misconduct in People v. Martinez. According to the complaint, the court vacated the conviction because of what it termed “prosecutorial misconduct” by Reeves. The complaint alleges that the Martinez court found Reeves improperly stated that the defense expert had repeatedly lied to the judges in other cases and during the current testimony. The complaint also says that the court found that Reeves acted as an unsworn witness at trial and improperly suggested he had been present in a different trial where the expert had lied.
Finally, the complaint calls for an investigation by the Grievance Committee into Reeves’ conduct in the case People v. Ragsdale, noting that the Appellate Division and Federal District Court opinions seem to indicate, without addressing it squarely, that Reeves violated the trial court’s evidentiary orders. According to the complaint, the trial court apparently struck Reeves’s question and issued a curative instruction to the jury; on appeal, the conviction was affirmed. The grievance calls for a thorough investigation into the conduct in that case.
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 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 the Grievance Committee should investigate Reeves’ conduct in light of the following then-applicable ethical rules:
- Rule DR 7-103(b) (from the Code of Professional Responsibility, later replaced by the Rules of Professional Conduct) required a prosecutor to make timely disclosure of the existence of evidence known to the prosecutor that tended to negate the guilt of the accused, mitigate the degree of the offense or reduce the punishment.
- Rule DR 7-102(a)(3) and DR 7-109(a) also required disclosure and prohibited the knowing concealment of evidence.
- Rule 7-102 prohibited attorneys from knowingly making a false statement to the court or using evidence they knew to be false.
- Rule DR 1-102 prohibited attorneys from engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.
- Rule DR 1-102 prohibited attorneys 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.
- Rules 8.4(d) and 8.4(h) of the Rules of Professional Conduct (applicable in People v. Martinez) prohibits attorneys 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: The law professors’ complaint calls on the Grievance Committee to investigate and issue public discipline, including disbarment (revoking Reeves’s law license). It also calls for a broader investigation into other cases prosecuted by the same prosecutor, and to determine whether the KCDAO’s and RCDAO’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 of the outcome of this ethics complaint or even whether the complaint is being investigated. 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 transparent its proceedings and findings in this matter.
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.