New York Law Journal
"The Lawyer's Duty to Check Facts"
Checking the water's depth before jumping in is always a good strategy. But it's an especially key strategy—indeed, imperative—for litigating attorneys.
It's been 26 years since a special grand jury concluded that Tawana Brawley's allegation that she was the victim of a sexual attack by several law enforcement officials was a fabrication. And, more important here, the then-Attorney General, in referrals to disciplinary committees, alleged that two lawyers ostensibly acting on Brawley's behalf, Alton H. Maddox, Jr. and C. Vernon Mason, "made false statements of fact under circumstances indicating that they knew the falsity of their statements, 'deliberately closed [their] eyes to the facts that they had a duty to see…or recklessly stated as facts things of which [they were] ignorant.'"
It is astonishing how far these lawyers (aided by Rev. Al Sharpton) went in making these allegations. The Attorney General alleged that one or both of them said that they had "direct evidence" that a particular assistant district attorney was involved in the assault; that a police officer whom they alleged participated in the assault was murdered because he was about to confess; that Brawley identified "several" of the attackers in interviews with law enforcement; that the governor appointed the Attorney General to investigate in order to cover up the assault; that hospital employees tampered with and destroyed the rape kit; that the governor tried to set up Sharpton for assassination; that the Attorney General never provided medical evidence to the grand jury; and that there was a mafia link between the governor and the accused ADA.
The conduct of these lawyers in making such allegations—whether based on disclosure from a client or not—is virtually unprecedented. They are no longer able to practice law. But in the process, they created a media storm and tarnished the reputations of many good people.