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Ex-prosecutor, disciplinary panel oppose Innocence Project bid to open proceedings

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. Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

A disgraced former Suffolk homicide prosecutor and the committee in charge of attorney discipline want to keep any investigation of him shielded from public view, as is normally the case, they have argued in court filings.

But the Innocence Project and others are urging the Appellate Division Second Department to make an exception in the case of Glenn Kurtzrock. He was forced to resign more than two years ago in the middle of a murder trial when it was found he had hidden evidence favorable to the defendant, in violation of ethical and legal rules. Since then, murder charges in several cases Kurtzrock handled were either reduced or dismissed entirely.

Last month the Innocence Project, a group that fights wrongful convictions, sued 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 a lawyer.

In its reply to the suit, the Grievance Committee refused to use Kurtzrock's name and would not "admit nor deny the existence of any complaints or disciplinary proceedings against Anonymous."

It went on to argue that confidentiality protects lawyers from being damaged by unfounded accusations and said proceedings have been open only when the lawyer waived the right to keep proceedings quiet. The fact that the claims against Kurtzrock have been covered widely in the news is not reason enough to change the committee's practice, it argued.

Michelle Aulivola, a Bay Shore attorney who represents Kurtzrock, acknowledged in her filing that her client is the subject of a disciplinary proceeding, but supported the committee's arguments to keep that proceeding secret. She did not respond to a request for comment. She did not use his name in court papers. 

The Innocence Project, in a new filing this week, said the complaints about Kurtzrock's behavior are so serious and so well known that there is no justifiable reason to keep any proceeding secret -- particularly when the case against him has remained unresolved for so long.

"In this particular case, there is also a compelling interest in learning why the proceedings against Kurtzrock have dragged on for over two years, while he remains fully licensed to practice law and to advertise his own experience as a 'former homicide prosecutor' to solicit clients," attorney Gregory Diskant wrote on behalf of the Innocence Project. "As such, the disciplinary proceeding should not be shielded from the public’s view."

In an interview, Diskant said, "It's unconscionable, really, that a case this open and shut should take two years."

He noted that two Suffolk judges found misconduct by Kurtzrock, with one calling it "absolutely stunning" and another calling it "a travesty of justice."

The purpose of the Grievance Committee is to protect the public from unethical or incompetent lawyers.

"What is Glenn Kurtzrock doing practicing law when he's shown himself to be unethical and unscrupulous?" Diskant said, adding that it's "kind of laughable" that his attorney and the Grievance Committee refer to Kurtzrock as "Anonymous" in their court papers.// 

Grievance Committee chairman Barry Smolowitz, a Kings Park attorney, said he could not discuss any case before the committee, and would not say whether any case should be made public before it's decided.

"I won't even attempt to address that," he said. "Not even in the abstract. The rules are the rules."

 The Grievance Committee investigates complaints and if it believes discipline is warranted, it refers cases to the Appellate Division in Brooklyn, which may hold hearings. Because of the court's regular caseload, the entire process can take more than a year, several attorneys familiar with the process said.

Another committee member, Marc Gann of Mineola, said, "It's hard for me to fathom a circumstance in which a lawyer disciplinary matter should be in the public sphere before discipline is imposed."

Gann would not discuss Kurtzrock, but he said the risks to the public are not great in a case of a lawyer "who's been publicly shamed." 

Suffolk District Attorney Timothy Sini has sought to distance his office from Kurtzrock, noting that his misdeeds happened under the administration of Sini's predecessor, Thomas Spota. The district attorney's office declined to comment on this issue.

But the attorney for Shawn Lawrence, who was exonerated of murder after being prosecuted by Kurtzrock and served six years in prison, endorsed the Innocence Project's effort to open the Kurtzrock files.

"I think it would be good for the public to know what's going on," said Julia Kuan of Manhattan. "This guy has ruined how many people's lives?"

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