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Group sues to unseal any disciplinary record on disgraced former Suffolk prosecutor

Former Suffolk prosecutor Glenn Kurtzrock was forced to

Former Suffolk prosecutor Glenn Kurtzrock was forced to resign from the Suffolk District Attorney's Office two years ago. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

The public is entitled to know why a disgraced former Suffolk prosecutor has not been disbarred more than two years since he was forced to resign, according to a suit filed Wednesday morning in Brooklyn by the Innocence Project.

Former Assistant District Attorney Glenn Kurtzrock resigned in the middle of his last murder trial in 2017 after the defense attorney in the case showed that Kurtzrock had hidden evidence of other suspects in the case. Prosecutors generally are required to turn over any evidence favorable to the defense as soon as possible under what is known as the Brady rule.

To the Innocence Project, a group that fights wrongful convictions, it's troubling that he is still practicing law. Its suit, filed with the Appellate Division Second Department, seeks to force the Grievance Committee for Nassau and Suffolk Counties to unseal its records regarding any disciplinary proceedings against Kurtzrock. Disciplinary actions normally are secret unless the committee moves to take action against an attorney.

Kurtzrock's last trial ended with the murder charge dismissed, as the defendant, Messiah Booker, pleaded guilty to robbery. Murder charges against Booker's three co-defendants also were dismissed. Eight months later, the murder conviction of Shawn Lawrence was thrown out as a result of similar misconduct by Kurtzrock and other prosecutors. Lawrence was freed after serving six years of a 75-years-to-life prison sentence.

"It's just unimaginable that in two years there hasn't been a resolution of the grievance process," said Nina Morrison, senior staff attorney for the Innocence Project. "The public should know why it's taken so long."

Kurtzrock’s attorney, David Besso, said he was unaware of the filing and questioned what standing the Innocence Project had to get involved.

Meanwhile, Kurtzrock is now working as a criminal defense attorney in Suffolk. He promotes himself on his website as an experienced former homicide prosecutor.

District Attorney Timothy Sini said his office has finished reviewing all of Kurtzrock's trials and is now reviewing every plea he took while searching for any other misconduct. Sini did not address the Innocence Project's effort to open his Grievance Committee file, but he said, "Generally speaking, transparency is a good thing."

Morrison said the Innocence Project has never taken such an action before. She said the suit is important because Kurtzrock's lack of punishment thus far makes the public —  including lawyers — cynical about the criminal justice system. 

A Grievance Committee spokeswoman declined to comment.

In the Innocence Project's legal brief with its suit, it argued that the usual reasons to keep proceedings against Kurtzrock secret don't apply.

He has no expectation of privacy because his misdeeds were revealed in open court and widely reported by the news media, the brief said. There is no risk of damaging his reputation with unfounded accusations, the brief said, because judges already have characterized his actions as "stunning" and a "travesty of justice."

The Grievance Committee could have suspended Kurtzrock's law license on an interim basis, Morrison said, adding that violating the law and important ethical rules should have a consequence.

Ellen Yaroshefsky, executive director of Hofstra University law school's Monroe H. Freedman Institute for the Study of Legal Ethics, agreed. She said Kurtzrock could be prosecuted for witness tampering or official misconduct.

"He's stealing lives from people," she said. "It's systemic and egregious. It looks as if this is his modus operandi."

Nationwide, only one prosecutor has ever been charged criminally for conduct leading to a wrongful conviction, according to the Innocence Project. That was Ken Anderson, in Texas, who withheld Brady rule evidence from the defense of Michael Morton, who spent 25 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of killing his wife. Anderson was disbarred, pleaded no contest to the contempt charges and was sentenced to 10 days in jail in 2013.

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