Prosecutors in Washington today abandoned two felony assault charges against a lawyer in exchange for a guilty plea to misdemeanor disorderly conduct, an agreement that ends a case that the presiding judge did not want to see go to trial.
The defendant, Ning Ye, a solo defense and human rights lawyer who is licensed in New York, was charged in October 2008 for a skirmish that happened months earlier in the vestibule of a courtroom in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Ye, who at the time was representing a man in a high-profile drug conspiracy case, was being escorted out when prosecutors say he became unruly. Ye was handcuffed and later strip-searched. He suffered cuts and bruises in the altercation.
The presiding judge, Richard Leon, rejected the government’s request that Ye serve a year of probation and take an anger management class. Leon, noting that Ye has already paid a price for injury to his reputation, sentenced Ye to a $500 fine. No probation. Ye, 57, repeatedly thanked Leon throughout today’s hearing for his “judicial wisdom.”
Ye had been pro se in his defense up until August, when a D.C. solo practitioner, Greg Smith, was tapped to represent him. For months, Leon has urged both sides to resolve the criminal case short of going to trial. Leon today praised Smith’s “tenacious” defense.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Karla-Dee Clark dismissed criticism from Ye and his lawyer that the prosecution was over-reaching and that the case should not have been filed in the first place. She said the government takes “very seriously” how individuals behave. “None of this had to happen, and he knew better,” Clark said. “We sincerely hope it doesn’t happen again.”
Leon had said the case posed risks for the government, and the defense, should it have proceeded to trial. The judge has also raised concern about prosecution discretion, questioning the government’s zealous pursuit of a case against Ye.
“To say this case has had a tortured past is, I think, an understatement,” Leon said today in court. Leon said he was pleased the prosecution and defense reached an agreement in a case that boiled down to what happened between two sets of closed doors. There was no camera between the doors. Leon gave Ye 90 days to pay the fine.
Leon said he has “every confidence” that Ye has learned a hard lesson. Disrupt a court proceeding again, the judge warned, and the outcome will not be the same. The judge noted that Ye has a record now--a misdemeanor conviction. “It will not end this way,” Leon declared.