Former Wake prosecutor disciplined for withholding evidence

The former Wake County prosecutor who acknowledged earlier this month that she withheld information from the defense team at a robbery trial has been barred from working as a prosecutor for two years but will keep her law license, according to a judge’s ruling Tuesday.

Colleen Janssen, who worked in the Wake County District Attorney’s Office for 11 years before resigning in 2016, was sanctioned by Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens for actions she took in 2014 during a dark time in her life.

Janssen’s father, Frank Janssen, was kidnapped from his Wake Forest home in April 2014 as part of a kidnapping scheme arranged by Kelvin Melton, a prison inmate. Colleen Janssen had prosecuted Melton on state charges and the convictions she won in that case meant Melton was sentenced to spend the rest of his life incarcerated.

Federal investigators were able to rescue Frank Janssen from an Atlanta apartment, but the abduction and the injuries and mental scars left by the incident had an impact on Colleen Janssen. In a disciplinary hearing earlier this month, Janssen told Stephens that she was not as mentally sharp as she should have been in the fall of 2014 when she withheld information from the defense team in a drug-related shooting trial.

“Assistant District Attorneys prosecuting cases in the Superior Court of this state hold a public office that is critical to maintaining the public trust and confidence in our judicial system,” Stephens stated in the 16-page order issued Tuesday. “The courts, the general public, persons charged with criminal offenses, victims and witnesses expect a system of justice that is fair, just and administered in strict compliance with the rule of law. Those who hold public office and prosecute persons accused of violating the law must themselves comply with the law.”

Prosecutors who fail to comply with such ethical standards, Stephens added, “impugn” the integrity of the court.

“That type of failure greatly damages public confidence in the fundamental principles of democracy,” the order states.

Stephens said the publicity surrounding Janssen’s misconduct “has had a negative impact on the public’s respect for and confidence in the integrity of” Wake County Superior Court and its “ability to ensure that those charged with serious crimes receive a fair and impartial trial.”

“Colleen Janssen has been unable to provide a satisfactory explanation to this court as to why these series of acts and omissions occurred and appears to lack insight into her own behavior,” Stephens further stated.

But Wake County’s chief resident superior judge also noted that many people had described Janssen as a prosecutor who was dedicated to her job, exhibiting a strong work ethic and a “strong commitment to ‘doing the right thing.’ ” Stephens further stated that what Janssen did in the fall of 2014 – withholding information from the defense team and a jury of her knowledge that a key witness and the victim in her robbery case also was suspected by Raleigh police and federal prosecutors of being a drug dealer – was not a pattern.

Stephens said there was no evidence that Janssen’s behavior in that case was anything more than “an isolated incident.”

By barring Janssen from working as a prosecutor or an attorney for any government or law enforcement agency for two years, Stephens said his goal was to protect the public from harm and to correct and protect the public’s perception of the integrity of the justice system.

In addition to the restrictions placed on her law license, Janssen was ordered to pay the costs associated with the three-day disciplinary hearing, though the amount was not specified in the order.

Efforts to reach attorneys for Janssen were not immediately successful.

Anne Blythe: 919-836-4948, @AnneBlythe1