Kenai judge rebukes DA

District attorney warned to stop off-the-record talks with grand jury members

Posted: Sunday, December 12, 2004

Lawyers in the Peninsula Bar Association were sent a letter last week by Kenai Administrative Judge Harold Brown informing them of reported off-the-record information being given to members of the grand jury by the Kenai District Attorney after indictments are handed down.

In his letter, Brown said, "I have been advised ... that ... the District Attorney routinely conducted what was known as an off-record 'rest of the story' session immediately after the grand jury indicted a defendant."

He added that the sessions occurred during the past 90 days and often included information such as details from the criminal investigation, a defendant's prior criminal history and other information that was not disclosed before the grand jury deliberated on whether to formally charge someone with a crime.

Speaking on behalf of Brown, Superior Court Judge Charles Huguelet said Thursday that the letter is not a reprimand.

"Our intent is making sure the playing field is fair," Huguelet said.

District Attorney June Stein said the word session "paints a misleading picture."

"Often, after the grand jury handed down an indictment, members would ask me about things I would not allow them to be made aware of before their deliberations," Stein said.

"I might have instructed a police officer to not disclose whether a defendant is currently in jail. I might not have allowed them to know the defendant's prior criminal history.

"After they handed down the indictment, they would ask questions, and I would answer them. That's all," she said.

Huguelet said there was a fear that if members of the grand jury knew information was being withheld from them on one case, they might believe information was going to be withheld on the next case.

Stein said she has not received complaints from any attorneys representing clients indicted in the past three months and said, "If they want to file a motion to dismiss an indictment, that's OK."

No such motions have been filed, she said Thursday.

In Brown's letter to Kenai Peninsula attorneys, he said he has taken steps to insure the off-record information will not continue.

"These steps include a strict prohibition of such conduct in the future, a requirement that a record be maintained at all times that the grand jury is in session except when the grand jury is deliberating and voting on a bill of indictment, and my personal participation in future grand jury orientations," Brown said.

Members of the Kenai grand jury serve for three months, and if a member is called for trial jury service on a case in which he or she decided on the indictment, that person is not allowed to be a member of that jury.

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