Judge orders investigation of former Wake prosecutor accused of misconduct
Posted August 9, 2016 10:13 a.m. EDT
Updated August 9, 2016 12:50 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — After years of prosecuting some of the toughest criminal cases in Wake County, Colleen Janssen found herself in an unusual position Tuesday as she sat at the defense table in a local courtroom.
Weeks after Janssen resigned as an assistant district attorney, Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens ordered her to appear in court so he could launch an investigation into whether she was guilty of professional misconduct.
The move comes after the state Court of Appeals determined she withheld evidence from defense attorneys while prosecuting a robbery case in 2014.
A judge initiating a misconduct investigation is unusual. Normally, the State Bar launches such reviews of attorneys' actions based on its own findings or on a complaint filed by another attorney or a member of the public.
"This conduct (is) directly affecting the Superior Court of Wake County, and therefore, I think it's appropriate that the court make an inquiry and, if anything occurred inappropriate, to deal with it," Stephens said.
Stephens gave the State Bar 120 days to file a report with him. If State Bar investigators find any misconduct, a formal disciplinary hearing will be held. If not, the case will be closed.
Janssen has been cooperating with the State Bar, turning over information "in an effort to conclude this matter as quickly as possible," said her attorney, Rick Gammon. She welcomes the State Bar investigation, Gammon said, because it gives her a chance to tell her side of the situation.
"This will be the only opportunity that Miss Janssen has been given to basically provide the information she needs to provide for the court to make an inquiry," Gammon said.
The misconduct allegations stem from a case in which Barshiri Sandy and Henry Surpris were charged with robbing Marcus Smith in April 2013.
Sandy and Surpris confronted Smith in his garage in April 2013 and exchanged gunfire with him before fleeing the scene, according to court records. Smith testified at trial in 2014 that Sandy and Surpris robbed him of $1,153 in cash and a ring, while the two defendants testified that Smith was a drug dealer who hadn't delivered some marijuana they had bought.
Smith denied any involvement with drugs, and Janssen repeatedly said during testimony and in her closing argument that there was no evidence to back up Sandy's and Surpris' claims, according to court records.
But emails that came to light during a subsequent federal prosecution of Smith on drug trafficking charges show Janssen used a personal email account to communicate with a Raleigh police investigator before Sandy's and Surpris' trial about a raid on a drug house linked to Smith, asking him to delay pressing charges against Smith.
The Court of Appeals ruled in June that Janssen violated the defendants' right to a fair trial by not informing their attorneys of the pending case against Smith, and the judges overturned the men's convictions.
Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman recently decided against retrying Sandy and Surpris, and they have been released from prison.
The Court of Appeals ruling was issued the same day that a federal court jury convicted Kevin Melton of masterminding the kidnapping of Janssen's father two years ago.
Authorities said Melton used a cellphone smuggled into a state prison to order members of the Bloods street gang to kidnap Janssen, who had prosecuted him in 2012, but the crew went to the wrong address and grabbed her father instead.
The FBI monitored the phone conversations between Melton and his subordinates to pinpoint Frank Janssen's location and rescued him from an Atlanta apartment five days after he was taken from his Wake Forest home.