An Atlanta Prosecutor’s Contempt Conundrum
May 2, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — Fulton County, Georgia Assistant District Attorney Vincent Faucette can’t be too happy at the moment. Usually prosecutors enjoy the support of judges and their respective police departments. Faucette’s casual attitude towards a discovery order in a murder case pissed off a Superior Court Judge. Now Faucette and the Atlanta Police Department must deal with civil contempt sanctions, and the severity of those sanctions means Faucette probably won’t get an invite to any Atlanta law enforcement dinner parties in the near future.
[A] judge has found the APD and Assistant District Attorney Vincent Faucette … in contempt. She’s given the police and prosecutor two options: Pay $1,000 each in fines or come back within 30 days with a training procedure to avoid delaying justice again.
“Justice” and court cases generally come with delays. Delays in criminal cases, however, mean someone’s either in jail or fretting over violating bond conditions. ADA Faucette’s delays meant Jamal Chandler sat in a jail cell on a murder charge while his attorney, Leah Abbasi, fought for information on a confidential informant. Faucette could have followed Judge Wendy Shoob’s January 13th order requiring production of that information, but he chose to start by lying about the documents. After that didn’t work, his next move would be dangling a few scraps of information in front of Abbasi.
The day before documents were due, according to the order, Faucette told Abbasi in an email that the department did not keep such records — a claim that Shoob said in the order “turned out to be untrue.” Faucette later provided two items: the case file in which the informant had previously testified as a witness and emails from APD regarding the informant’s role in other investigations.
“I wasn’t getting information that I knew was out there and I was told we don’t have it or it doesn’t exist,” Abbasi says. “I’ve had it take time before, but never ‘it doesn’t exist’ when I know it does…”
Faucette, according to the order, agreed to provide some documents, ending with “after all that if you feel the need to file an additional motion then be my guest.”
But Abbasi did not give up…She informed Faucette on Feb. 22 that she would move forward with filing a motion for contempt.
Contempt is pretty serious stuff. It’s what makes a court’s order more than just a polite suggestion, as it’s the judge’s power to enforce their authority with sanctions that can include incarceration if someone knowingly violates that order. In this case, it’s civil contempt, as this is a failure to adhere to a court order. It’s not something criminal in nature or egregious conduct inside court.
While Faucette and the Atlanta PD don’t face jail time, Judge Shoob’s civil contempt finding means she can sanction both parties until she’s certain they’ll understand and respect her authority. The language from her April 22nd contempt order doesn’t mince words on how she seriously she views Faucette and the Atlanta Police Department’s gaffes.
“If basic discovery requests are met with indifference, disinterest, or even outright lies, we no longer have a just system,” Shoob said.
Faucette’s actions fit those definitions, but it’s hard to tell whether he meant to lie and ignore the court’s authority. It’s entirely possible Faucette simply thought Judge Shoob wouldn’t care if and when he actually complied, since prosecutors get incredible leeway as agents of the state or federal government. Taking a cavalier attitude to Leah Abbasi carried consequences Faucette didn’t expect. Since Abbasi never withdrew her motion for contempt, Faucette and the Atlanta Police found themselves in full damage control mode as they toiled to justify their defiance of Shoob’s order.
At a March 31 contempt hearing, Faucette and officers attempted to explain how the requests fell through the cracks, saying the failure to provide the requested information was not intentional, and pointing to a “miscommunication.” One APD sergeant who was called as a witness said he thought the court’s order had “expired.” Faucette also said he thought Abbasi’s motion for a contempt order was retaliatory out of frustration over the process. Shoob found neither the sergeant nor Faucette, according to the hearing transcript, “credible.”
Judge Shoob’s lack of faith in the APD or Vincent Faucette’s credibility is evident from her ruling. She uses words and phrases like “untruths” and “hide the ball” when describing the conduct of the APD and ADA Faucette for their decision to intentionally lie about and then delay the discovery process. Her lack of faith in Faucette and the APD’s credibility is evident in her directives on how any new “training program” should work from the language in her April 22nd contempt order. Unless it educates police on timely responses to defense subpoenas and teaches ADAs “their legal and ethical obligations” then Faucette and the APD must pony up a total of two grand in fines, payable to the public defender’s office.
Accountability is a must if the public is to believe in a fair and impartial justice system. When prosecutors escape accountability for their misconduct, even if it’s something as small as delays in producing discovery, people take notice. When that person is a judge, and sanctions are imposed, it may help deter future decisions to play fast and lose with the rules of criminal procedure. One can only hope in this case, Vincent Faucette takes a cue from Fault Lines’ resident jurist and squares his corners the next time he steps foot in a courtroom.