RALEIGH — A former Durham prosecutor who built a career as an advocate for children went too far when she tried to protect a child by throwing the girl’s mother in jail on trumped-up charges.
Jan Paul has been disciplined by the State Bar for having the woman arrested so she couldn’t visit her daughter after the child had testified against the woman’s boyfriend in a sex-abuse trial.
“I made a mistake of law in my effort to protect a child, and I have accepted responsibility for that error,” Paul said Wednesday. “Serving as a prosecutor was both challenging and rewarding, and I always tried to do what I believed was right. I sincerely hope that otherwise during my time as a prosecutor, I was fair and able to achieve justice.”
Paul, who has been a lawyer for 27 years, represented children in guardianship cases for many years in Durham County. After becoming a prosecutor she specialized in child-abuse prosecutions.
In 2007, she brought a felony sex offense case against a man accused of assaulting his girlfriend’s daughter. The girl’s mother said she didn’t believe the girl had been abused.
At the 2009 trial, the judge dismissed the most serious charges against the man. During a Friday lunch break in the trial, Paul learned that the mother planned to visit her daughter that weekend. The girl’s father had custody, and the mother had visitation rights.
Worried that the girl’s mother would harm her physically or emotionally because she had testified against the man, Paul had the woman arrested as she left the courtroom that afternoon on charges of aiding and abetting and accessory after the fact to sex offenses with a child. Legally, that wasn’t permissible, because the offense that the mother was accused of aiding and abetting had just been dismissed.
That afternoon, a judge who learned what Paul had done ordered that the woman could be released from jail without securing her bond, and on that Monday dismissed the charges against her.
Paul didn’t contest the bar complaint, although she was represented at a bar hearing by a state-paid attorney on a contract worth $250 an hour plus expenses, with a $10,000 limit. She consented to the findings of a three-member State Bar hearing panel, which found the arrest and criminal charges against the woman were unlawful.
The bar panel decided against disbarring Paul because her motive was not a selfish one, she had dedicated her career to helping children and she had a good reputation, according to the panel’s order of discipline issued in October. But the members felt that something more serious than a reprimand was in order.
The bar panel suspended her law license for one year, but said the suspension wouldn’t take effect so long as she meets certain conditions.
Paul left the district attorney’s office in 2010. She works on adoption issues in the legislative research division of the General Assembly.