Earlier this summer, Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Snyder received an informal admonition from the D.C. Office of Bar Counsel. He was accused of making false statements to a judge in the early stages of a group of murder and obstruction of justice prosecutions. It's an outcome one defense lawyer involved in the cases called "ludicrous," given a judge's earlier findings that Snyder committed other serious ethics violations.
Bar counsel found Snyder violated the rules of professional responsibility by telling a judge he didn't know of any psychiatric conditions related to a key government witness. In fact, bar counsel said, Snyder hadn't searched the witness' juvenile records, which he knew existed, and was aware of other information about the witness' mental health. An informal admonition is the lightest form of discipline available.
Paul Riley, a Washington solo practitioner who represented a defendant in one of the cases at issue, said the admonition was "ludicrous." Snyder's handling of the mental health records was a minor issue, he said, especially when compared to disclosure violations that a judge found Snyder committed in a related case. Riley said he wasn't involved in filing a complaint with bar counsel.
Snyder has been an assistant U.S. attorney in Washington since 1998. He didn't return a request for comment. His lawyer in the disciplinary proceedings, Paul Knight of Nossaman, didn't return requests for comment. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, William Miller, declined to comment on the informal admonition and on whether Snyder had faced any internal investigation or discipline.
No other documents or information about Snyder's disciplinary case are public, according to Bar Counsel Wallace Shipp Jr. Shipp declined to comment on the case.
Snyder led the prosecutions of Dwight Grandson, Danyelle Adams and Jerome Holliway. Grandson was accused of a 2004 murder, and Adams and Holliway were charged with trying to intimidate a witness who eventually testified for the government against Grandson. All three were found guilty by District of Columbia Superior Court juries in 2006.
Several months after the trials ended, however, defense lawyers learned the government never disclosed that a key prosecution witness—the one Adams and Holliway were charged with trying to intimidate—had an expectation she'd be paid $25,000 for her testimony. The government said the witness was never promised money, but acknowledged she was under the impression she'd be paid. Grandson, Adams and Holliway filed motions for new trials.
In March 2009, prosecutors agreed to reduce the sentences for Adams and Holliway in exchange for the withdrawal of their post-conviction motions and appeals. The government acknowledged the two raised "non-frivolous" issued related to the alleged disclosure violations. Adams sentence was lowered from 10 years in jail and five years of supervised release to the four and a half years she'd already served, plus three year of supervised release. Holliway's sentence was knocked down from 17 years in jail and five years of supervised release to seven years in jail and three years of supervised release.
In an opinion in May 2010, Superior Court Judge Rhonda Reid Winston vacated Grandson's murder conviction and ordered a new trial. The judge said Snyder had a "history of repeated, blatant Brady violations and misrepresentations" in the case, not limited to the witness payment issue.
The government had a duty to disclose information on the witness' expectation of reward money, Winston found. Given the weight the witness' testimony carried at trial, Winston said the outcome of the trial might have been different if defense lawyers could have questioned her more closely about her motive for testifying.
The judge also concluded that Snyder failed to disclose to the defense that a witness testified in the grand jury that Grandson was known to carry a gun that was different from the type of gun used in the murder. That information only came to light after the judge happened to look at the transcript of grand jury testimony.
Following a second trial, a jury in October 2011 found Grandson not guilty.
The disclosure violations weren't mentioned in the three-page informal admonition issued against Snyder by the Office of Bar Counsel on June 24. Bar counsel instead focused on statements Snyder made in 2004 and 2005 about the mental health history of the witness at the heart of the Brady issues. At the time, Snyder told the judge he didn’t know of any psychiatric conditions, based on conversations with the witness and a search for medical records.
Bar counsel said the statement was false because Snyder hadn't checked the witness' juvenile records and there was some other evidence of psychiatric issues.
In issuing the admonition, Shipp wrote, "we have taken into consideration that you took this matter seriously, that you cooperated with our investigation, that you have no prior discipline, that neither the court nor counsel were ultimately misled by your statements and that you accepted responsibility for your misconduct by accepting this Informal Admonition."
The admonition didn't specify any details of the complaint brought against Snyder, except to identify that the case was docketed by bar counsel in 2010.
Snyder has been a member of the D.C. Bar since 1989. He had no history of disciplinary action, according to D.C. Bar records.
Disciplinary actions against federal prosecutors in D.C. are rare. One case is currently pending against a former federal prosecutor in Washington, Andrew Kline, who is accused of withholding evidence in a shooting case in D.C. Superior Court.
On August 1, the D.C. Board on Professional Responsibility recommended a 30-day suspension for Kline. The board rejected the lighter punishment of a public censure, which bar counsel had been seeking. Kline is fighting the allegations.