Judge Issues New Sanctions Against Federal Prosecutors in Little Rock

by Gwen Moritz  on Thursday, May. 31, 2012 3:29 pm  

U.S. Attorney Christopher Thyer

U.S. District Judge Bill Wilson has backed off on the sanctions he imposed against federal prosecutors in Little Rock late last year, but Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen has taken up the slack.

In an order issued Wednesday afternoon, Griffen imposed his own sanctions against three federal prosecutors whom he identified by name: U.S. Attorney Christopher Thyer and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Angela Jegley and Patricia S. Harris.

Even more ominously, Griffen said he would submit his findings and Wilson's "to the Arkansas Office of Professional Conduct for investigation and consideration of disciplinary action."

Both orders for sanctions grew out of prosecutorial action in a high-profile case involving the USA Drug chain and its former marketing executive, Garret Sorensen.

A federal grand jury in 2009 issued criminal charges against Sorensen, his wife and sister-in-law for skimming $525,000 from USA Drug, and the pharmacy chain's parent company, Stephen L. LaFrance Holdings Inc., made identical charges in a civil case filed in circuit court.

The defendants weren't entitled to depose witnesses in the criminal case, but when Judge Griffen ordered depositions to go forward in the civil case last fall, the federal prosecutors unilaterally moved the civil case out of state court and into federal court.

Judge Wilson ultimately sent the civil case back to circuit court and sanctioned the U.S. Attorney's Office, led by Thyer, for improperly interfering with the defendants' right to discovery.

The prosecutors appealed to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at St. Louis and also asked Wilson to reconsider, which he did after Thyer repented of his original statement that he would "do it again if the need arises."

"The Government now concedes that 'removing the action was not the means to pursue [its] goal, and the United States does not intend to invoke the removal statute if similar circumstances present themselves in the future,'" Wilson wrote, quoting the prosecutors' motion for relief from the sanctions. "This concession falls a tad shy of an unalloyed concession; but it does indicate that the Government understands that is procedure was inappropriate."

He granted the motion on May 25, just in time for the Memorial Day weekend.

He has not granted any relief to LaFrance's former attorney in the civil case, Ryan Solomon, whom he had sanctioned for extreme efforts to help his clients - Stephen LaFrance Sr. and his sons, Stephen Jr. and Jason - avoid sitting for depositions. "As my earlier Orders reflect, the worst transgressions were by private counsel," Wilson wrote.

Meanwhile, in Circuit Court



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