Updated 5:58 p.m.
Calling a defense lawyer's crime "truly unconscionable," a federal judge in Washington today sentenced a longtime Washington attorney to more than five years in prison for his role in a scheme to manufacture evidence to dupe jurors in a drug trial.
The defense lawyer, Charles Daum, who had practiced law in the District of Columbia for three decades, will serve 63 months behind bars for a plot that included staged photographs and perjured testimony.
Daum was convicted at a bench trial last year that featured a series of jail recordings and testimony from cooperators—including Daum's client, whom the defense lawyer blamed for creating and executing the plot. Daum was indicted in 2011.
U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler today called Daum's scheme "shocking" and said it threatened public confidence in the integrity of the judicial system. Kessler said her sentencing decision should serve as a deterrent for any lawyer "who may think of cutting a corner, not telling quite the truth to a judge."
"It is vitally important that all lawyers understand what awaits them if they attempt to illegally manipulate" the trial system, Kessler said in court, where more than 80 spectators, many of them attorneys and court staff, had gathered for the hearing.
Daum stood, with his hands clasped behind his back, as Kessler announced the sentence. Earlier, he declined to offer any remarks about the case. His attorney, David Schertler of Washington's Schertler & Onorato, said in court today that Daum is remorseful.
Schertler presented Daum as an honest man, a good person, who made a mistake. Schertler dedicated part of his time in court today assessing unethical police officers and prosecutors and the public perception that neither is regularly held accountable for lapses in judgment.
"When was the last time you saw a prosecutor prosecuted?" Schertler asked at one point. "It doesn't happen."
Daum's client, a man named Delante White, faced a 20-year mandatory-minimum for drug possession, Schertler said. White insisted on a trial, rejecting a plea offer. Schertler called the potential prison time for White "outrageous." In one way, Schertler said, Daum was "leveling the playing field."
At White's trial, in 2008, Daum presented staged photos that were meant to convince jurors that a cache of drugs the police found actually belonged to White's brother. The jury deadlocked. Prosecutors uncovered the evidence scheme after the mistrial. White cooperated with investigators.
Daum, his lawyer said, destroyed his life's work when he crossed a line. "There is nothing the court can do to Mr. Daum that he hasn't already done to himself," Schertler said in urging Kessler to sentence Daum to a year and a day in prison.
Kessler said a year in prison would not promote respect for the law or highlight the seriousness of the offense.
Daum faced a guideline range of 63 to 78 months in prison. Prosecutors recommended Kessler sentence Daum to the top of the guidelines.
Darrin McCullough, a U.S., Justice Department trial attorney, in court today portrayed Daum as a serial violator of ethics rules. Every lawyer knows where the line is between effective, zealous advocacy and unethical behavior, the prosecutor said.
"Mr. Daum stepped up to the line, jumped over it and started running," McCullough said.
Over the government's objection, Kessler allowed Daum to self-report to serve his sentence once a prison is designated.
“Daum went to extraordinary lengths to purposefully subvert the legal process in his client’s case,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman said in a statement this afternoon. “He fabricated evidence and knowingly presented perjured testimony, betraying his profession and our system of justice."