On Friday, September 18, 2009, a rare event will take place. The North Carolina State Bar will hold a disciplinary hearing with a state prosecutor in the hot seat. Johnston county prosecutor Gregory C. Butler will go before the Bar’s Grievance Commission on a complaint related to the tardiness of the prosecution in providing defense with items of discovery in the Tiffany Bassett case. From information provided by Mr. Butler’s response to the complaint, this grievance is totally without merit. To begin with, both the judge assigned to hear the Bassett case, as well as Ms. Bassett’s defense attorney hold Butler blameless as far as intentionally withholding evidence. To the contrary, he went out of his way to provide the defense with all evidence in accordance with the state’s open file discovery policy. Furthermore, Mr. Butler joined the prosecution team just two months prior to trial, long after most of the items sought by defense motions had been provided.
After the judge admonished the prosecution for presenting a file (recently uncovered by Butler, but which contained mostly documents which were already in possession of the defense) of 437 pages to defense just prior to trial, the North Carolina State Bar took it upon itself to open a file against Prosecutor Butler and then file a grievance against him. The action by the State Bar forced Prosecutor Butler to recuse himself from the case (not unlike what happened to former Durham Prosecutor Mike Nifong and the Duke Lacrosse case). This resulted in another delay, as the main prosecutor in the case had to be replaced.
In the end, the defendant pled guilty to second degree murder before the prosecution rested its case. Justice was delayed for nearly six months, but it was not denied, and the administration of justice had not been unduly prejudiced by any actions of the prosecutor, Gregory C. Butler.
The question, therefore, is why is the North Carolina State Bar going after prosecutor Gregory C. Butler on such a flimsy charge? Why go after Butler, especially when the far more egregious conduct of prosecutor Bill Wolfe in the James Arthur Johnson case is overlooked, despite a complaint filed by the NAACP with the State Bar? The State Bar has not taken the initiative to open complaints against other prosecutors who have delayed and denied justice to defendants who were not guilty of convictions won by other prosecutorial misconduct. The North Carolina State Bar has shown its lack of consistency and its arbitrary nature by opening files on prosecutors who are acting in good faith and committing no misdeeds (Nifong and Butler), and overlooking the vast number of prosecutors whose actions have made a mockery of the justice system in North Carolina.
The State Bar should not waste its time pursuing the grievance against Gregory Butler. It should, in fact, apologize to him for bringing the complaint against him to begin with. In addition to dismissing the disciplinary hearing against Butler, the North Carolina State Bar should also unilaterally and unconditionally reinstate the law license of Mike Nifong to practice law in the state without restrictions.
The Bar’s recent pursuit of Butler reinforces the urgent need for the North Carolina State Bar to be regulated and held accountable for its actions. Its arbitrary and reckless actions have terrorized all attorneys licensed by the state, and dealt a tremendous blow to the principle of equal justice for all.