Local News

State Bar finds no violations by second lawyer in Racial Justice Act case

Posted September 25, 2015 4:12 p.m. EDT
Updated September 25, 2015 5:59 p.m. EDT

— A disciplinary panel of the North Carolina State Bar ruled Friday that a lawyer who participated in the first case to be heard under the Racial Justice Act didn't violate the rules of professional conduct for attorneys.

An anonymous complaint was filed in March against Gretchen Engel, charging her with providing inaccurate information to the judge in the Racial Justice Act hearing for Marcus Robinson, whose death sentence was commuted in 2012 after a judge determined race played a factor in how jurors were selected for Robinson's 1994 murder trial.

The law, which state lawmakers repealed in 2013, allowed death row inmates to challenge their sentences by using statistical evidence to show racial bias during their trials. In Robinson's case, Engel and other attorneys gathered affidavits from blacks who were excluded from the jury, but the State Bar alleged that information contained in two affidavits didn't jibe with other evidence in the case and that Engel didn't try to correct them before submitting them as evidence.

Engel testified in her disciplinary hearing on Friday that it was a simple oversight.

"It's troubling to me. I try to be accurate," she said. "This is not how I'd draft it today ... and I regret it."

Superior Court Judge Greg Weeks has said the questionable affidavits played no role in his decision to overturn Robinson's death sentence. Engel's attorneys also noted that Weeks, in his order commuting Robinson's sentence, detailed inaccuracies in the prosecution's case that were never brought up for disciplinary action before the State Bar.

Engel was the second attorney to face a disciplinary complaint in the case.

Two weeks ago, a different disciplinary panel admonished Cassandra Stubbs for her role in submitting the affidavits.