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James says Teachout was censured as a lawyer; record says otherwise

Zephyr Teachout, law professor at Fordham University and

Zephyr Teachout, law professor at Fordham University and candidate for New York Attorney General, speaks during a press conference outside of Trump Tower in Midtown Manhattan, August 8, 2018. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Drew Angerer

ALBANY -- Democratic candidate for attorney general Letitia James has accused one of her primary opponents, Zephyr Teachout, of being censured in defense of a North Carolina death row inmate, an accusation a Bar Association record contradicts.

Teachout said the incident -- a reprimand -- occured because of her mistake in not submitting her forwarding address when she moved from North Carolina, and the Bar Association said the action had no impact on her client or his case.

“When she was in North Carolina, she was censured,” James said in a WNYC debate Thursday and in Internet ads on Friday. “Why? Because she abandoned a death row inmate to join a campaign. Very true. All you have to do is go to North Carolina and read the censure and read the statement.”

The statement by the Grievance Committee of the North Carolina State Bar states that in 2005 Teachout wasn’t censured, but did receive a reprimand in the case and ordered to pay a $50 fee to cover the cost of the proceeding.

“The grievance committee was of the opinion that a censure is not required in this case and issues this reprimand to you,” the committee stated to Teachout. A reprimand is defined as “a written form of discipline more serious than an admonition.”

Teachout wasn’t the lead attorney in the case of convicted murderer Darnell Fowler, but the “second chair.” The Bar Association said that when Teachout moved from North Carolina in 2002, “you failed to inform the court and opposing counsel of your new address and contact information.” The court allowed her to withdraw from the case in 2004, according to the record.

“There was no evidence that Fowler’s appeal was prejudiced as a result of your misconduct, nor did your client complain to the state Bar,” the record stated. “Your conduct in this matter is also mitigated by the fact that you have no prior discipline and exhibiting a cooperative attitude during the Aug. 12, 2004, hearing and toward the bar’s proceeding.”

“I took full responsibility,” Teachout said in Thursday’s debate carried by radio and livestreamed on the Internet. “I welcome you to read that document because it is very clear that there was no impact on the case or the client. That is simply false mischaracterization.”

The lead attorney in the case, Stephen Greenwald, called the issue “an administrative issue … It had zero bearing in any way on the case.”

“Zephyr Teachout left a death row client to take a political job in another state,” said Jack Sterne, James’ press spokesman in a statement. “The North Carolina Grievance Committee found her guilty of 'professional misconduct' and issued a reprimand -- a sanction so egregious that it was imposed in less than 2% of professional misconduct cases that year.

Teachout, a Fordham law professor, and James, the New York City public advocate, are seeking the Democratic nomination for attorney general against Leecia Eve, a Buffalo-born corporate attorney, and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a Hudson Valley resident with who had worked for President Bill Clinton. The primary is Thursday.

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