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Appeals court suspends license of ex-Suffolk prosecutor who committed "serious misconduct" during murder trial

Former Suffolk prosecutor Glenn Kurtzrock on Aug. 12,

Former Suffolk prosecutor Glenn Kurtzrock on Aug. 12, 2016. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

A former Suffolk homicide prosecutor can't practice law for two years after he failed to turn over exculpatory evidence in a 2017 murder trial that ended with the accused pleading guilty to attempted burglary after the prosecutorial misconduct was revealed.

In a ruling Wednesday, an appellate court temporarily suspended attorney Glenn Kurtzrock's license starting in February, saying he "abdicated his duty as a public officer" with his actions in the case against Messiah Booker.

"He committed serious misconduct that undermines the public's trust in the justice system," the ruling from the State Supreme Court's Second Judicial Department Appellate Division said in part.

But an attorney who represents Kurtzrock said Thursday his client might file an appeal with the state's highest court.

"I was very surprised that the appellate division suspended Mr. Kurtzrock," attorney David Besso said of the decision, saying "there was no reason" for such an action.

He said his client, now a criminal defense lawyer, had "a spectacular career as a prosecutor, trying multiple homicide cases to verdict successfully."

Besso added that the court special referee who heard the case against Kurtzrock as part of a grievance process found there were no intentional acts on the former prosecutor's part and no prior decisions by Kurtzrock to hide evidence from anybody.

Kurtzrock, who resigned from the Suffolk district attorney's office on the day of Booker's plea, didn't immediately return a message left at his Hauppauge law office Thursday.

The grievance proceeding against him revolved around the Booker case, according to the court's ruling, specifically Kurtzrock's failure to disclose to Booker's attorney that anyone other than the defendant had been implicated in the murder.

The appellate ruling also said while Kurtzrock "committed extensive misconduct in one case, there was no showing that he engaged in any similar conduct in any other cases."

But Nina Morrison, senior litigation counsel for Innocence Project, said Thursday the court should have disbarred Kurtzrock. She said they ignored other evidence of misconduct related to the separate Suffolk murder case against Shawn Lawrence.

Eight months after Booker's case ended, Lawrence's murder conviction was thrown out as a result of similar misconduct by Kurtzrock and other prosecutors, Newsday previously reported. Lawrence went free from prison after serving six years of a 75 years-to-life sentence.

"When potentially more than one person may have spent the rest of their life in prison as a result of his misconduct, how the court can think this merits only ... a two-year suspension from the practice of law in what could be a decades-long career is mystifying," added Morrison, whose group fights wrongful convictions.

In May 2019, Innocence Project filed a lawsuit in Brooklyn trying to force a grievance committee for lawyer misconduct to unseal its records related to any disciplinary proceedings against Kurtzrock — proceedings that normally aren't public unless the committee moves to take action against an attorney.

The lawsuit, which Newsday and other news organizations supported in a legal filing after Innocence Project lost but tried to appeal to a higher court, was unsuccessful.

Suffolk District Attorney Timothy Sini said in a statement Thursday that Kurtzrock's misconduct "which went unchecked by the previous administration, is reprehensible, and goes against our duties as prosecutors to seek the truth and to serve justice."

He added: "We have completed the review of all of the homicide cases handled by Mr. Kurtzrock and have made all appropriate disclosures, and are continuing to review his other cases."

Kurtzrock, also previously a Nassau prosecutor, had worked in Suffolk under former District Attorney Thomas Spota — who now is facing sentencing after his 2019 conviction on federal corruption charges.

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