California Prosecutor Disbarred for Ethical Misconduct – Disobeying Court Ordres, Hiding Evidence from Defendant

By Tracey Kaplan

Calling former Santa Clara County prosecutor Ben Field’s ethical misconduct “inexcusable,” a State Bar appeals panel has upheld a judge’s landmark recommendation that he be suspended from practicing law for four years.

The panel’s decision increases the chances Field will undergo the harshest disciplinary punishment in recent history for a California prosecutor. Field’s attorney, Allen Ruby, said he will appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court. But appeals to the high court are discretionary — meaning the court can decide not to hear the matter.

Field resigned from the district attorney’s office in August after a State Bar judge found he violated a host of ethical rules in four criminal cases, ranging from disobeying judges’ orders to hiding crucial evidence from defense lawyers that could have helped people accused of crimes. He now works for former San Jose City Councilwoman Cindy Chavez at the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council and its nonprofit arm.

In the decision filed Friday, the appellate panel found after its own extensive investigation that Field’s misconduct harmed the reputation of the district attorney’s office and the public trust in the criminal justice system.

“Field’s misconduct began shortly after his admission to the bar, involved moral turpitude, spanned a 10-year period and significantly affected the criminal justice system,” the appellate panel’s 31-page report says. “We find that Field’s misconduct

was inexcusable.”

Field declined Tuesday to comment.

The panel found Field violated court orders in a 1995 juvenile case and defied a judge’s orders and concealed evidence in the 2003 appeal of a rape case. It also found that he withheld a crucial witness’s police interrogation in a 2003 murder case and defied court orders in his closing arguments in a 2005 sex offender case.

Before the decision, there was speculation in the legal community that the panel would impose an even harsher punishment than the State Bar judge. But the panel found three reasons to stick with the judge’s recommendation — Field’s cooperation during the investigation, his previous pro bono service and testimonials by 36 character witnesses, including former District Attorney George Kennedy and retired Judge Ronald Lisk. Current District Attorney Dolores Carr also vouched for Field’s honesty and integrity but conceded he failed to meet the office’s overall ethical standards.

A spokesman for Carr said Tuesday she declined to comment. The State Bar also declined to comment, beyond noting that “Two State Bar courts have now spoken.”

Field’s misconduct has proved costly

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