Albany prosecutor fired for secretly writing defense briefs

Defense lawyer Cheryl Coleman thought it was a brilliant idea to hire her local Assistant District Attorney – the aptly named Steve Sharp – to write her criminal appeals on the QT.  For years, Sharp and Coleman regularly appeared against each other in court without anyone’s knowing about their sideline arrangemen.  Not the judge, not the client on trial, and certainly not Sharp’s boss  the Albany District Attorney.

This was probably La Coleman’s worst idea since going to a Halloween party as Tawana Brawley.

An appellate attorney discovered the boondoggle. He urged the pair to come clean and inform the court. Sharp and Coleman refused, indignantly accusing the attorney of extortion and trying to ruin Sharp’s career and stoutly maintaining that they were doing nothing wrong.

“It isn’t that big a deal to do some issue spotting for another attorney,” explained Sharp. “The notion that Ms. Coleman aided me in furtherance of my career is, quite frankly, laughable.”

“Completely ethical,” chimed in Coleman. Besides, she said, all the Sharp-authored appeals were for cases “far from Albany.”

Even after learning that Sharp was secretly working for a defense lawyer while acting as her adversary in court, Albany DA Soares did nothing.

Until the Albany Times Union broke the story a month and a half later.

Soares fired his subordinate, but not without giving him a “very positive” recommendation to the Albany Public Defender, Stephen Herrick. Herrick was thrilled to give him a job. “I’ve seen him grow as an attorney, as a human being,” he gushed. “He’s one of the brightest young legal minds that I’ve seen in the Capital District.”

It’s unlikely that the Public Defender’s Office was Sharp’s first choice, given that he’d been pulling down a salary of $112,164 at the DA’s Office and still felt the need to make money on the side.  We imagine the phone calls not reported in the Times Union:

VOICE: You have reached the Office of the Very Far From Albany District Attorney.

ALBANY DA: Say, Joe, how would you like to hire one of the brightest young legal minds in the Capital District?

VFFA DA: Why’re you letting him go? A #MeToo problem?

ALBANY DA: Ha, ha. No, he’s just been doing a little issue spotting on the side. If you know what I mean.

VFFA DA: Oh, him. Yeah, I really want to hire an ADA who sees nothing wrong with getting paid to challenge convictions obtained by our Office. The idea is, quite frankly, laughable.

ALBANY DA: But you’re very far from Albany.

VFFA DA:  That doesn’t mean we’re in China. All his appeals were to the same appellate court as Albany. Plus, how does it look to have a prosecutor doing a trial against a defense attorney that he’s secretly working for?

ALBANY DA: But I’ve seen him grow as a human being.

VFFA DA: Looking at their photographs, I’d say they both look pretty developed as human beings. Why doesn’t he just go work for her openly?

ALBANY DA: I guess without the secrecy it loses that je ne sais quoi.

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18 Responses to Albany prosecutor fired for secretly writing defense briefs

  1. Alex Bunin says:

    She also used to be a judge:
    “In December 2003, respondent [Coleman] was served by the Commission with a Formal Written Complaint, alleging inter alia that in March 2003, respondent improperly asserted the prestige and influence of her judicial office during a personal dispute between respondent and four women at a concert at the Pepsi Arena in Albany, which resulted in the arrest of the four women; that in August 2002, respondent was discourteous to an attorney during a small claims hearing in which the attorney was representing a party and that respondent improperly found the attorney in contempt; that in September 2002, respondent was discourteous to a pro se defendant charged with parking violations; and that in October 2002, respondent was undignified and discourteous to the claimant in a small claims matter.” (Stipulation between Coleman and the State of New York Commission on Judicial Conduct)


  2. REvers says:

    She should have informed the appellate courts. When they found out the briefs were written by a prosecutor, she would have won every single appeal.


    • We can imagine a defense brief written by a prosecutor: “Notwithstanding that the Honorable Judge Bludgeon is the most brilliant legal mind in the Capital Region and the defendant is a disgusting scumbag with a criminal record as long as your arm, the latter is unfortunately entitled to a new trial with all the attendant drain on scarce judicial resources, based on the quite frankly laughable technicality that a judge should not tell the jury that if the defendant were innocent he would have taken the stand and told his side of the story, regardless of the inescapable reasonableness of that inference. . .”
      Say, maybe we could pick up some extra change by writing prosecution briefs.


      • Food for Thought says:

        The other cases were the appeals of convicted Chenango County killer Ganesh R. Ramsaran, who was convicted in 2014 for the murder of his wife, Jennifer, who disappeared on Dec. 11, 2012, in New Berlin; the appeal of Michael A. Nicholas of Washington County, a felon convicted in 2013 of drug charges for allegedly selling crack cocaine to an informant; and the appeal of former Cornell University wrestler Peter J. Mesko, convicted in 2015 in Tompkins County of burglary and sexual abuse for attacking a woman during a 2013 house party in Ithaca.

        Ramsaran initially appealed to the Appellate Division and won a new trial. His conviction was reinstated at the Court of Appeals, which sent the case back to the Appellate Division, where it was affirmed. Nicholas’ conviction was reversed. The Appellate Division upheld the conviction of Mesko.

        Not bad for a prosecutor …


      • Very bad for a prosecutor to work secretly against his colleagues just for the money.


  3. Bill Thomas says:

    Most defendants, myself included, already find it distasteful that prosecutors and defense lawyers are too friendly in front of us. Stories like this only serve to cement the belief that prosecution and defense lawyers work together against the defendant.


    • Hippie Man says:

      This is what I think make the claims so devastating and the lack of bar discipline against the attorneys so clueless. All these actions do is breed the cynicism that its the law profession which is the true enemy of the people. Frankly, I think they both should be disbarred.


    • Sometimes defense lawyers have to shmooze with prosecutors to get a deal for the client. But in our opinion, this story confirms our suspicion that to many prosecutors, the whole thing is just a game. One prosecutor gets a conviction and another prosecutor secretly gets paid to challenge it. And apparently judges see nothing wrong with it.


  4. Windypundit says:

    From your reaction to this, I take it New York is not one of those states where private defense lawyers can get side work doing prosecutions in other counties?


    • Never heard of that. Can we assume that these aren’t secret, so that everyone knows of any potential conflict? For example the lawyer isn’t defending a client in one county and prosecuting him in another?


      • Windypundit says:

        It’s all out in the open, which is certainly less suspicious. However,,,I first heard about it in connection with those mass lawyer marketing sites where they tell potential clients to describe their problem and they’ll forward it to lawyers that handle those kinds of issues. A client who goes into too much detail about a criminal matter could end up having those details shared with a defense lawyer who does prosecutions where the crime occurred.


      • Disgusting! Where’s the ABA when you need them?


      • Alex Bunin says:

        Oh, Squawk, you need to take Amtrak and see how law is practiced in the Capitol. All lawyers there have at least three jobs. Usually, it is some combination of prosecutor, public defender, conflict counsel, town judge, State Assembly or Senate committee counsel, and/or refrigerator repairman.

        Liked by 1 person

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