Updated: 5 p.m.
Lawyers for embattled former federal prosecutor G. Paul Howes are challenging a proposed two-year bar license suspension, saying that an ethics panel's recommended discipline is flawed and too harsh.
A committee of the D.C. Board on Professional Responsibility in August split in its recommended punishment for Howes, a former assistant U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia. One committee member said Howes should be suspended from the practice of law for two years; the other committee member said Howes should be disbarred. (Bar Counsel rejected disbarment.)
The two-person committee—a third member of the committee dropped from the panel without explanation before the report was issued—found that Howes misused public money to compensate retired detectives for their courtroom testimony and Howes was wrong to pay incarcerated witnesses. A Justice Department Office of Professional Misconduct report in 1998 found Howes, over the course of two years, authorized, more than $140,000 in payments to 132 witnesses.
Howes’ alleged misconduct has led to reduced prison sentences for at least nine defendants—several of whom were serving life sentences. Howes now works in the San Diego offices of Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins.
A lawyer for Howes, Paul Knight of Nossaman, said in a brief this month challenging the recommended sanction that the sanction should be no greater than 30 days. Knight said the two committee members sway “inconsistently back and forth between positions” and that the committee "has completely failed to grasp the massive factual record in this case.”
“Because of the enormity of the facts underlying the large number of charges, it is a mind-boggling task for anyone, even a seasoned prosecutor, to fully grasp the facts,” Knight wrote in a brief submitted to the full Board on Professional Responsibility.
“Mr. Howes was not some renegade prosecutor issuing vouchers without any basis or for
an improper basis,” Knight wrote.
Knight said Howes paid money to incarcerated witnesses for the “right reason,” honoring his promise to take care of cooperators upon their release from jail. “The Hearing Committee stunningly is far more concerned about the expenditure of a few dollars of public funds than the lives of these cooperating witnesses,” Knight wrote.
Knight said money paid to retired detectives for their testimony was a “pittance” compared to the millions of dollars—in salary, equipment and money for informants and drug purchases—that the government was spending to prosecute gang cases.
[C]itizens of the District of Columbia got the benefit of two highly competent and dedicated former detectives who could greatly assist the prosecution of very dangerous individuals - for next to nothing,” Knight wrote. “The Hearing Committee never seemed to understand what it costs to prosecute gang cases in terms of manpower and money and blood and sweat.”
Knight said the delay in resolving the case should be taken into account as mitigation of a sanction. Howes has “practiced ethically for more than 14 years since the last alleged misconduct involved here,” Knight wrote.