A D.C. Superior Court judge ruled yesterday that prosecutors in the U.S. attorney's office may conduct pretrial negotiations with lawyers for the Public Defender Service in writing, and are not required to meet with them face to face.
Judge George H. Revercomb issued the ruling after the prosecutor in a felony murder case, William D. Nussbaum, refused to communicate with the public defender except in writing.
"I believe this will . . . minimize the chance of misunderstandings between us," Nussbaum wrote to public defender James H. McComas last March. The Public Defender Service asked the judge either to remove Nussbaum from the trial or require him to meet with the defense lawyer in person.
The Nussbaum-McComas disagreement followed a separate incident in which McComas introduced in court a memorandum that another prosecutor had written about McComas' conduct during a trial. In the memo, the prosecutor labeled McComas "the most treacherous, unscrupulous advocate I've ever seen."
Revercomb ruled that there is "no authority which holds that a prosecutor must conduct his pretrial communications orally rather than in writing." But he warned that "personality conflicts must not undermine the seriousness of the work of the U.S. attorney and the public defender."