Federal judge scolds federal prosecutor

A federal prosecutor apologized in open court this week for his office’s behavior as a trial against four men accused of drug distribution came to a close. Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Muehleck, who works for U.S. Attorney Florence Nakakuni, admitted “we screwed up,” but reiterated the government’s case against the accused meth smugglers.

Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi acquitted two other men in the same case, finding that the federal government “failed to present any admissible evidence” that they “were even ‘slightly connected’ with the conspiracy.” That came after a finding last month in which Kobayashi deemed the government’s conduct in the case “sloppy” and “troubling,” sanctioned Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Loo for failing to turn over exculpatory evidence to defense attorneys and referred him to the Justice Department’s office of professional responsibility.

Odds are pretty good that if it is discovered once, it has happened before. Misconduct is often the product of an office culture. So it will be interesting to see what happens to Loo at the Justice Department, and if the department will look for misconduct beyond this case. Historically, the department has been lax in disciplining its misbehaving prosecutors — as have state bars, state and federal courts and just about anyone else with the capacity to do so.

(Hat tip: The Open File.)

Radley Balko blogs about criminal justice, the drug war and civil liberties for The Washington Post. He is the author of the book "Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces."
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Radley Balko · February 26