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Four lawyers and others were charged with bribery and conspiracy or related crimes in connection with a kickback scheme involving a non-profit organization (New York City Criminal Justice Agency) which was designed to provide assistance to defendants who were just arrested and waiting in jail for arraignment in New York. Apart from the usual anxiety attached to being placed in jail, the processing time through arrest, jail and arraignment, begets even more apprehension because of the uncertainty of knowing when you will actually appear before a judge, where at least, your liberty will be considered. It is alleged that the lawyers, working through a contact with the non-profit, a police officer and a court clerk figured out a method to speed up the process; working with their confederates, inmates would be handed business cards (and in some cases coins to make the call) depicting the availability of lawyers who could arrange to substantially speed up the process because of their special contacts. It is alleged that the scheme lasted from August, 2013 through September, 2014 resulting in around 100 clients being steered to the lawyers with substantial payments to some involved in the chain of commerce. The website for the criminal justice organization at WWW.NYCJA.ORG says in part, their goal is to assist the courts and the city in reducing unnecessary pretrial detention, and they may usually be doing a good job, but in these isolated instances, the methodology for accomplishing this mission seems to have run askew. Of course, all of the defendants are presumed innocent. The question we have is who told on them? You wouldn’t think it would be one of the inmates- it appears the process worked and their cases sped forward. The more likely source is other criminal lawyers who lost out on potential clients owing to the special advantage these lawyers had. Professional courtesy only goes so far, especially where money is concerned.

COMMENT: It is unethical for a lawyer to compensate someone other than another lawyer solely because the person referred a client to him/her. Such matters can cross from ethical to criminal when agents of the government are used to facilitate the process. For example, if a police officer (government official) participates in the process for gain, this line has likely been crossed. If any other government agent becomes similarly involved, they have joined the criminal conspiracy. In the example above, if the allegations above prove to be true, all of the people involved, including the lawyers, could be convicted of crimes.

Similarly, police officers are prohibited from taking actions which violate their special positions of trust. There have been cases where police officers have used their position to obtain data about individuals for their own personal gain. An old case I’m familiar with involved just that. The cop was into drugs and he wanted to protect the dealers he bought from. In exchange for their services, he used police computers to learn the identity of possible informants which information he then passed along to the drug dealers. He was busted for breaching his position of trust while using government tools in the process- a violation of federal law.

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