Bar dismisses grievance against lawyer who worked on Racial Justice Act cases

An N.C. State Bar disciplinary panel has vacated a five-month-old ruling against Cassandra Stubbs, a lawyer who worked on successful Racial Justice Act cases.

The panel issued a new order Monday that dismissed the grievance filed against the Durham defense attorney and entered a judgment in Stubbs’ favor. The admonishment she received has been wiped off her record from a disciplinary case that raised many questions in the legal community about why the bar even filed a public complaint.

“Cassy Stubbs represents the best of lawyers,”Alan Schneider and Bradley Bannon, the Raleigh attorneys who represented her, said in a joint statement Tuesday. “She could have used her talent and law license in any way, but she dedicated her professional life to serving the poorest and most disenfranchised people in our community. Her work in the Racial Justice Act litigation saved four lives and exposed widespread racial bias in the imposition of the death penalty in North Carolina. She should have received a medal for that work, not a Bar grievance. From day one, we have adamantly denied ethical wrongdoing and fought to clear her name, and we thank the disciplinary panel for ultimately doing the right thing.”

Stubbs, described by her peers as “an absolute beacon of integrity,” tearfully fought accusations of professional misconduct levied against her in an anonymous complaint. As a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union Capital Punishment Project, she was among a team of attorneys who used the short-lived Racial Justice Act to convert the sentences of four North Carolina death-row inmates in 2012 to life without possibility for parole.

The Racial Justice Act, repealed by state lawmakers in 2013, allowed death row inmates to challenge their sentences by using statistical evidence to show racial bias played a role in their cases. The bar allegations against Stubbs focused on inconsistencies between court records and sworn statements that the defense team 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.

The judge who heard the Racial Justice Act cases ruled in 2012 that the inconsistencies were immaterial and unintentional and did not weigh into his rulings.

Similar allegations were lodged against Gretchen Engel, director of the Durham-based Center for Death Penalty Litigation. A different disciplinary panel considered Engel’s case last year after the initial Stubbs’ decision and came to a different conclusion. Engel was cleared of any wrongdoing and her case was dismissed.

Since then, the bar reconsidered the Stubbs case and the N.C. Supreme Court vacated the four Racial Justice Act rulings.

Anne Blythe: 919-836-4948, @AnneBlythe1