Two Twin Cities-area lawyers have been accused by the Hennepin County attorney of knowingly presenting at a hearing false witness statements that their client, a convicted murderer, had obtained by bribery and intimidation.
In a rare motion argued last week in Hennepin County District Court, County Attorney Mike Freeman demanded that lawyers Michael McGlennen and Zachary Longsdorf pay undisclosed litigation costs and invited the district court, the Sheriff’s Office and the state Department of Corrections to recoup their expenses.
“These attorneys had multiple opportunities to drop the hearing,” Freeman said in an interview this week. “I know this is very unusual, but these are extraordinary circumstances, and I’m asking for an extraordinary remedy.”
He added that he sees the lawyers’ actions as the most blatant act of fraud inflicted upon the court system in his 35-year legal career — a characterization that drew a rebuke from an attorney representing one of the targets of his criticism.
But Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said he believes that his Hennepin counterpart “is very much in the right” to seek monetary relief, given the facts of this case.
McGlennen and Longsdorf deny any wrongdoing.
The client at the center of the case is LaMonte Martin, a gang leader convicted in 2007 in the 2006 execution-style murder of 19-year-old Christopher Lynch in a Minneapolis alley. Martin now is serving a life sentence at Oak Park Heights prison. Three years later, the state Supreme Court affirmed Martin’s conviction.
In 2011, Martin petitioned the district court for a hearing examining his case, claiming witness recantation and due process violations, but a judge denied his request.
In October 2012, Martin and 10 others, mostly gang members and prison inmates, were charged with bribing and coercing witnesses to Lynch’s killing. The witnesses were told to recant testimony they had given at trial and to provide sworn affidavits to that effect, which were filed in support of Martin’s request for a hearing, Freeman said.
In January, the state Supreme Court ruled that Martin should receive the hearing he’d requested in district court to assess the credibility of the recanting witnesses, particularly Jermaine Mack-Lynch and Charles Pettis.
Longsdorf, whom Freeman said police had told about the witness tampering investigation of Martin, withdrew as his attorney in February.
McGlennen agreed to represent Martin in June and moved forward with preparation for the hearing, which was held in September. According to Freeman, he did so even after Mack-Lynch testified that he had filed a false affidavit, and Martin and Pettis pleaded guilty for their roles in the tampering case.
“You can’t do this,” Freeman said. “It’s simply wrong. I understand zealous representation. This is off the charts.”
‘Abuse of process’
At Martin’s hearing, District Judge Marilyn Rosenbaum ruled against him, writing that the recantations were not genuine, truthful or reliable. Rather, she wrote, they were the result of coercion, bribery, threats and violence.
“The State’s evidence supports a finding of abuse of process,” she wrote. “Martin used this court’s limited resources to perpetuate a fraud upon the judicial system.”
Minnesota rules about lawyers’ professional conduct and state statutes obligate attorneys to refuse to offer evidence they know is false or to disclose to the court if their client intends to offer false evidence.
In response to Freeman’s motion last week, McGlennen wrote that every affidavit he submitted was “sufficiently credible.” He wrote that the state Supreme Court had ordered the hearing for Martin, and he argued that withdrawing from it would have been a breach of his duties to a client in a difficult situation.
In court last week, Longsdorf’s attorney, Joe Friedberg, said Longsdorf did everything he could to verify the truth of the affidavits.
He described Freeman’s motion “as the most outrageous I’ve ever seen in my life.” He also criticized the county attorney for commenting on a pending case.
Friedberg said McGlennen has an excellent reputation and also praised Longsdorf, who has been practicing law for just a short time.
Case viewed many ways
Motions for monetary sanctions are much more common in lawsuits and are seldom filed in criminal cases, said Steve Simon, a University of Minnesota law professor. Attorneys can’t let clients lie, but sometimes clients don’t tell attorneys they’re going to lie, he said.
Simon said he believes Freeman’s motion has merit because of the vast resources needed to respond to Martin’s petition for a hearing, including the false affidavits. “This is a real threat to the integrity of the judicial system,” he said.
University of Minnesota law Prof. Richard Painter took a different view. In criminal cases, exposing defense attorneys to monetary sanctions can seriously impair their effectiveness, he said. Unlike civil cases, there isn’t necessarily a clear-cut point at which sanctions for misconduct are justified. That makes it even more important that the violation be egregious and obvious, he said.
The conduct rule most relevant in this case says a lawyer may not knowingly submit false evidence, Painter said. But Freeman wrote in his motion that the accused attorneys “knew or should have known,” which broadens his argument too widely, Painter said.
“Criminal cases involve a lot of questionable evidence. Both accusers and alibi witnesses are often persons of bad character and do not always tell the truth,” he said. “Defense counsel should not be afraid to put the best case forward, stopping short of knowingly introducing false evidence.”