Addison’s defense asks high court to disqualify prosecutors
An attorney for Michael Addison yesterday asked the New Hampshire Supreme Court to bar state prosecutors from any further involvement in his case, arguing that officials at the attorney general’s office had acted imprudently by hiring and not properly screening an attorney who had worked on portions of Addison’s appeal.
Addison, 33, was convicted in 2006 for fatally shooting a Manchester police officer and later sentenced to death. In November, the high court upheld the capital murder conviction and ruled that the state’s death penalty law does not violate its constitution. The court has yet to determine whether Addison should be executed for the murder. In deciding that, justices will weigh whether his sentence was excessive or disproportionate compared with penalties imposed in similar cases.
Addison’s motion before the court targets a former public defender named Lisa Wolford, who worked part time on the first of three phases of his appeal. Wolford joined Addison’s defense team in 2009 and spent six months helping them strategize a post-conviction plan. According to the motion, Wolford had at least one face-to-face meeting with Addison and once appeared before the Supreme Court on his behalf.
In 2012, roughly two years after leaving the case, she joined the attorney general’s office as an appellate prosecutor in the Criminal Justice Bureau.
In the motion, filed this summer, defense attorneys insisted that Wolford had intimate knowledge of their arguments in the case and could easily share those with prosecutors in her new role.
“In football terms she has her old team’s playbook,” they wrote.
They argued that Wolford was never explicitly screened from the attorneys prosecuting Addison’s case, and that similar directives were not immediately distributed to the rest of the staff. What’s more, they wrote, Wolford had ready access to the Addison prosecutors: Her new office was “literally within shouting distance” of theirs.
The attorney general’s office said a senior official there did meet with Wolford when she was hired, and that he advised her at that time to refrain from discussing anything regarding her former casework. In a June 2012 email exchange, then-Attorney General Michael Delaney assured the then-head of the public defender program that Wolford would be “screened from any matter in which she had involvement as a public defender, or was exposed to confidential information, including the Addison case.”
The state insists Wolford has never shared information or knowledge on the Addison case. It cites an affidavit disclosing as much that was signed by every employee in the Criminal Justice Bureau who has worked there since Wolford joined.
“No ethical rule was violated here, nor any confidences broken,” state attorneys wrote in a court brief.
Associate Attorney General Richard Head said yesterday that disqualifying his office simply based on the hiring, without any other evidence that showed improper disclosures, would set a dangerous precedent, as defense attorneys could attack them for hiring anyone who has ever worked on a case in which they are involved.
“These shouldn’t all become fishing expeditions,” he told the justices.
Justice Robert Lynn seemed to agree, at least in this instance.
“We have a situation where an attorney, basically sort of a line attorney, went from a line attorney position in the appellate defender’s office to a line attorney position in the attorney general’s office,” he said. “Maybe that does not call for some type of presumption, or require a response from the attorney general’s office.” Whereas, he noted, if someone who had worked more prominently on the Addison case – on the trial itself, for example – became a senior official at the agency, or the agency itself was smaller in size, then a more formal screening might be necessary.
“It seems to me that’s pretty far from what we have here,” Lynn said.
“It is very far from what we have here,” Head replied.
In speaking with Addison’s attorney, Andrew Schulman, Lynn asked what would happen if the justices disqualified state prosecutors from the case. Schulman said the attorney general’s office could hire a private team for the remainder of the appeal.
“But even doing that, wouldn’t the attorney general’s office then get to make the decision of who replaces it?” Lynn said. “Who would make that decision?”
“Choosing counsel is not the problem,” Schulman replied. “There’s no exchange of information.”
(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)