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In re Griffing

Supreme Court of Louisiana

October 18, 2017

IN RE: C. MIGNONNE GRIFFING

         ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDING

          PER CURIAM. [*]

         This disciplinary matter arises from formal charges filed by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel ("ODC") against respondent, C. Mignonne Griffing, an attorney licensed to practice law in Louisiana.

         UNDERLYING FACTS

         Since 1990, respondent has been employed as an Assistant United States Attorney ("AUSA") for the Western District of Louisiana, Shreveport Division. At all times relevant herein, respondent was primarily assigned to prosecute white collar and public corruption cases.

         During the course of her employment as an AUSA, respondent began and maintained what the formal charges describe as an "intimate, romantic relationship" with a Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI").[1] The FBI agent was typically the lead investigating law enforcement agent on many of the criminal prosecutions advanced by respondent. While his testimony at trial was not consistently required, the FBI agent was often the principal witness in grand jury presentations and at various hearings where respondent sponsored his testimony on behalf of the prosecution. Respondent and the FBI agent worked to keep their relationship confidential.

         Counts I & II

         Respondent, on behalf of her client the United States Department of Justice ("DOJ"), initiated the prosecution of Monroe councilmen Robert "Red" Stevens and Arthur Gilmore (Count I) and Ouachita Parish Sheriff Royce Toney (Count II). The FBI agent was the lead investigative agent in both matters. At no time during either prosecution did respondent disclose to the United States Attorney or the defendants that the investigations were performed by the FBI agent, whose testimony she sponsored. Respondent's relationship with the FBI agent created a conflict or potential conflict of interest which she was ethically bound to disclose to the United States Attorney, but which she failed to do. Because the relationship with the FBI agent could reasonably give rise to a basis for questioning the interest and/or credibility of the witness by the defense, the existence of the relationship should have been disclosed to the defendants, but respondent failed to do so.

         The ODC alleged that respondent's conduct violated Rules 1.7 (a lawyer shall not represent a client if the representation involves a concurrent conflict of interest), 3.8(d) (the prosecutor in a criminal case shall make timely disclosure to the defense of all evidence or information known to the prosecutor that tends to negate the guilt of the accused or mitigates the offense, except when the prosecutor is relieved of this responsibility by a protective order of the tribunal), and 8.4(a) (violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

         Count III

         In connection with respondent's prosecution of Sheriff Toney, as set forth in Count II, the defendant's attorney, A.M. "Marty" Stroud, III, was assured by respondent that his client would not be indicted during the month of February, and held the belief that his client, if indicted, would be allowed to self-surrender. Mr. Stroud related respondent's assurances to his client. Nevertheless, when respondent learned that Sheriff Toney was believed to be "spreading rumors" regarding her relationship with the FBI agent she called Mr. Stroud and threatened to have Sheriff Toney arrested, handcuffed, and "perp walked" out of the Sheriff's Office if he did not refrain from spreading such rumors. Subsequently, Sheriff Toney was indicted in February and was arrested, handcuffed, and led out of his office by law enforcement, resulting in his termination of Mr. Stroud's representation.

         The ODC alleged that respondent's conduct violated Rules 8.4(a) and 8.4(d) (engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

         Count IV

         During the course of the prosecutions described in Counts I and II, the United States Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana was informed of the allegations regarding respondent's relationship with the FBI agent. Upon questioning by the United States Attorney, respondent falsely denied and/or misled the United States Attorney regarding the relationship.

         The ODC alleged that respondent's conduct violated Rules 8.4(a) and 8.4(c) (engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

         DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS

         In March 2013, Sheriff Toney filed a complaint against respondent with the ODC. In March 2016, the ODC filed formal charges against respondent as set forth above. Respondent answered the formal charges and admitted she had a personal relationship with the FBI agent. She further admitted she had an obligation to disclose the relationship to the United States Attorney and to the defendants; however, she denied the relationship created a conflict of interest. Respondent denied any misconduct relating to the allegations in Count III of the formal charges.

         Formal Hearing

         This matter proceeded to a formal hearing conducted by the hearing committee on July 7-8 and September 27, 2016. The ODC called Mr. Stroud, Sheriff Toney, and First Assistant United States Attorney Alexander Van Hook to testify before the committee. Respondent called numerous character witnesses to testify ...


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