State Bar judges: OC prosecutor should be suspended for six months
A panel of State Bar of California judges has ruled that an Orange County prosecutor should be suspended from practicing law for six months for improperly withholding evidence for a 2013 child-abuse trial.
An attorney representing Deputy District Attorney Sandra Lee Nassar indicated Monday that he plans to appeal the State Bar’s court decision to the California Supreme Court, saying that the prosecutor did nothing wrong.
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office declined to comment.
Last year, State Bar Judge Yvette Roland recommended that Nassar be placed on a three-year-probation with a minimum one-year suspension. Nassar appealed, leading to the panel of judges issuing the latest opinion calling for a lesser punishment.
The allegations stem from a case involving Carmen William Iacullo II, who is serving a 12-year sentence for felony corporal injury to a child.
Jail officials, at Nassar’s direction, carried out a two-year “mail cover” investigation targeting Iacullo and the mother of a 5-year-old he was accused of abusing. Correspondence between the two was intercepted and copied before being delivered to Iacullo at the jail, with the copies turned over to Nassar.
The mail cover continued after the mother agreed to a plea deal requiring she testify against Iacullo.
Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Duke took over the Iacullo case in April 2013, after Nassar rotated out of the unit handling his prosecution. Duke, during a State Bar hearing last year, testified that after looking over the 1,000-plus pages of copied correspondence, she was surprised that the letters hadn’t been turned over to Iacullo’s defense attorney.
Asked why she hadn’t turned over the letters, Duke testified that Nassar responded, “Why would I?” Duke testified that answer struck her as “odd.”
Duke testified that she discussed the mail cover material with her supervisor, then turned it over to Joe Dane, the defense attorney representing Iacullo.
Among the mail cover material turned over to Dane was a letter in which the boy’s mother indicated that Iacullo hadn’t injured the boy or been present at the time of the abuse. That letter led prosecutors to offer a plea deal to Iacullo, which he accepted.
Nassar, during the State Bar hearings last year, adamantly denied wrongdoing, testifying that she “did absolutely nothing wrong,” and that “it is repulsive to me to think someone would even say that about me.”
Nassar testified that she started the mail cover because of concerns that Iacullo would try to locate the boy, who was a key witness to the alleged crimes. Both Iacullo and the mother were barred from contacting the boy.
Nassar also noted that Iacullo received the same correspondence she had gotten copies of, and could have provided it to his attorney himself.
The three-member panel of Star Bar judges disagreed.
“We find that Nassar lost sight of her prosecutorial duties when she failed to disclose the mail cover materials,” the judges wrote in their opinion. “She shifted her focus away from her duty to shield against injustice and concentrated on the adversarial nature of the job.”
Brentford Ferreira, the attorney currently representing Nassar in the State Bar court legal process, said he “disagreed completely” with the ruling. He described Nassar as being “obviously disappointing” by the call for a six-month suspension.
“Ms. Nassar took appropriate legal steps to protect a little boy from the monster who tortured him,” Ferreira said.
As of Monday, Nassar’s license to practice law was still listed as active on the California State Bar website.
Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who is running against incumbent Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, criticized the current leadership at the DA’s Office for what he alleged were systemic ethical issues.
“This all falls on Rackauckas, and his failure of ethical leadership has resulted in a culture of cheating,” Spitzer said.
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office did not respond to questions about Nassar’s current assignment, or whether she would keep working on cases during the appeal process. Ferreira said that to the best of his knowledge, Nassar still has an active case load.
The DA’s Office also did not respond to questions about whether it was paying for Nassar’s attorney.