Yas Sadri – NY State Bar #3040094
Who: A group of law professors filed an ethics complaint in March 2022 against attorney Yas Sadri, alleging that Sadri engaged in misconduct while prosecuting Alshawn Holiday on behalf of the Kings County District Attorney’s Office (KCDAO). The complaint also calls for the Grievance Committee to investigate Sadri’s conduct in prosecuting Cecilio Lopez in a separate case. 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.
What: The ethics complaint, also known as a grievance, is based on a New York court decision, People v. Holiday. According to the complaint, in the Holiday case, the Appellate Division found that prosecutor Sadri improperly elicited testimony that was “calculated” to appeal to the passion and sympathy of the jury. Sadri “compounded” her errors when she repeatedly identified barely visible figures on a surveillance video as the victim and the defendant–despite the court’s repeated instruction to the contrary.
The Appellate Division found that Mr. Holiday’s defense attorney failed to preserve these issues of misconduct for review on appeal, but the court “nonetheless reach[ed] them in the exercise of [its] interest of justice jurisdiction . . . there is a significant probability that their combined effect contributed to the defendant’s conviction.” The Appellate Division reversed the murder conviction due to Sadri’s misconduct.
The complaint also urges the Grievance Committee to investigate Sadri’s conduct while prosecuting the case People v. Lopez. According to the complaint, in that case, the appellant’s brief argued that Sadri repeatedly mischaracterized evidence and substituted her opinion of evidence for that of the medical examiner who had testified. The complaint alleges that the defense motion for a mistrial was not granted but the trial court sustained a defense objection that Sadri was “appealing to sympathy.” Since the Appellate Division ultimately concluded that “[t]o the extent that some of [Sadri’s] remarks were improper, they were not so flagrant or pervasive as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial,” the complaint calls for the Grievance Committee to investigate.
What rules are involved: The ethics complaint notes that as far back as 1899, the New York Court of Appeals cautioned prosecutors against appealing to “prejudice” or seeking conviction “through the aid of passion, sympathy or resentment.” The Court of Appeals has explained that a prosecutor must not vouch for the strength of her own case because of the “possible danger that the jury, impressed by the prestige of the office of the District Attorney, will accord great weight to the beliefs and opinions of the prosecutor.”
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 Sadri’s conduct violated the following ethical rules:
- Rule 8.4(d) and Rule 8.4(h) require that a lawyer shall not engage in conduct 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 on the Grievance Committee to investigate and issue public discipline, including suspending Sadri’s law license. It also calls for a broader investigation into other cases prosecuted by the same prosecutor, and to determine whether KCDAO’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 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.