Judge chides prosecutors for 'disrespectful' walkout in cops' trial

Justice Geoffrey Henderson -
Justice Geoffrey Henderson -

Prosecutors have been reminded to observe ethical standards and professional conduct, including adhering to the guidelines of their code for prosecutors.

The advice came from Justice Geoffrey Henderson, in an admonition to the two state attorneys who abruptly walked out of his courtroom after jurors, in a majority verdict, acquitted two policemen last week.

Henderson is a former director of public prosecutions (DPP). After their abrupt exit from his court before he discharged the jury, Henderson expressed his disappointment at the actions of prosecutors Brandon Sookoo and Dylan Martin. He said he reported the “discourtesy” to DPP Roger Gaspard, SC, to “deal with.”

On March 12, the two prosecutors received a dressing-down from the judge as they appeared before him at the Princes Town court.

“I cannot put into words how incredibly disappointed I was by your disrespect not only to me as a sitting judge but also to the Supreme Court when you walked out of the court...

“I don't know what spirit of madness came over you. Do not pay lip service to your code and be upset over verdicts or rulings you do not like.”

He said prosecutors were ministers of justice who operated by a code.

“A prosecutor secures no victory and sustains no defeats,” he said, quoting from the code for prosecutors produced by Gaspard on March 26, 2012.

“Your behaviour shattered my view of you…” he told the two state attorneys.

“I am not sure you misunderstood my easygoing nature to behave the way you did, to walk out the court when you didn't get a verdict you liked.”

Henderson also reminded that “undignified or discourteous conduct” was a reportable breach (to the Judicial and Legal Service Commission).

He said before last week’s incident, he had nothing but praise for the two as “the brightest, decent, and well-prepared” state attorneys. At first, he said, he told the DPP he no longer wanted the two to appear before him, but because Gaspard described them as “committed prosecutors,” he would work with whomever the directors sent.

But he warned, he would not tolerate discourteous attorneys in his courtroom.

“This is not Justice Henderson’s court. It is the taxpayers' court.”

Henderson read extensively from the code for prosecutors on the topics of role and ethics, impartiality, decision-making and the application of the full code test to determine if they were satisfied they had a case with a reasonable prospect of conviction and trial fairness.

“Evaluate if those are empty words.”

Henderson also said a judge’s summation (directions to a jury) was not a “second prosecution closing address,” and reminded of the appellate process if they are not pleased with a court’s ruling on a trial.

He further urged prosecutors to review their cases before bringing them to trial.

“The problem starts with the quality of the cases.”

He said bringing a case to trial with little prospect of success was a waste of scarce, valuable court resources.

“Low conviction rates undermine the criminal justice system. Start by referring to your code. You are representatives of the public’s interest,” he said, as he read from the code that allowed a prosecutor to invite the court to stop cases, at any point, when they believe there is no longer a reasonable prospect of a conviction.

Henderson referred to at least six cases, including the one last week, to emphasise his point.

“What happened to the code of stopping trials swiftly?”

“Resources can be focused on stronger cases…If you have lime, you can only make lime juice.”

Henderson said as of last year, there was a backlog of 1,618 outstanding indictments. He said while there were now 16 judges and a reduced backlog, even with plea deals, eliminating the logjam would take time.

Henderson said what would also help would be for prosecutors not to bring cases that had little prospect of conviction.

“Look over the cases assigned to you and those that have a realistic prospect of conviction,” was his advice to the State. “If you do not, I will question, why are you bringing weak cases?”

Addressing the judge, Sookoo and Martin apologised, saying it was not his rulings that led to their walking out.

“There were other things that prompted my actions,” Martin said, but declined to give details.

“The incident had nothing to do with the verdict or ruling, but this is not the appropriate forum to go into details,” Sookoo said.

Both men were again told their actions came across as “disrespectful and discourteous to the court.”

Henderson added, “I have two good prosecutors. I could not tell you how unhappy I was.”


"Judge chides prosecutors for ‘disrespectful’ walkout in cops’ trial"

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