A Durham defense attorney who worked on the first successful challenge under the Racial Justice Act was admonished on Friday by a N.C. State Bar disciplinary hearing.
Cassandra Stubbs, a lawyer described by her peers as “an absolute beacon of integrity,” tearfully fought accusations of professional misconduct levied against her earlier this year in an anonymous complaint. The admonishment means the panel found that Stubbs committed a minor violation of the rules of professional conduct.
Stubbs, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union Capital Punishment Project, was among a team of attorneys who used the short-lived Racial Justice Act to convert a North Carolina death-row inmate’s sentence in 2012 to life without possibility for parole.
The state bar, the organization that oversees lawyers in North Carolina, filed a public complaint against Stubbs built on the anonymous complaint.
The allegations focused on sworn statements that Stubbs introduced from men who had been part of a 1994 jury pool but not selected for the panel in the case of Marcus Reymond Robinson, the first death-row inmate to have his sentence converted under the Racial Justice Act.
The bar complaint accuses Stubbs of providing inaccurate information to Judge Gregory Weeks, who presided over the Racial Justice Act case.
The bar complaint contended that Stubbs and another lawyer, Gretchen Engel, director of the Durham-based Center for Death Penalty Litigation, provided inaccurate information for the court to consider that ranged from a wrong address to a recollection from one of the potential jurors that did not jibe with the official trial transcript.
Some legal analysts have characterized the allegations of wrongdoing as so minor and questionable that they think politics could be at play.
On Friday, Stubbs could not fight back tears as she urged the bar disciplinary panel to reconsider its findings of conduct violations. She was on maternity leave at the time the statements were drafted and simply reviewed them.
Weeks has said the statements played no role in his decision to overturn Robinson’s death sentence and resentence him to life in prison without possibility for parole.
The Racial Justice Act, which has since been repealed, allowed Weeks to consider statistics as he reviewed Robinson’s claims that racial bias played a role in his capital punishment case.
Stubbs said the charges have been “totally devastating” and go to “the heart” of what she considers herself to be as a person and as a lawyer.
Stubbs’s attorneys had sought dismissal of her case and a lesser warning after the accusations of misconduct were found.
Now, with Engel’s case still pending, Stubbs must weigh whether to appeal the disciplinary panel’s actions.