Contempt allegations against former assistant district attorneys resolved

Updated: Nov. 12, 2020 at 10:24 PM CST
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LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) -Judge Ron Ware decides in favor of two former Calcasieu prosecutors in a contempt of court hearing. It’s in connection with pre-trial matters in the Joey Julian case.

Julian is charged with second degree murder of Ernest Miller, November 8th, 2017 at Mill and Ryan Streets.

Prosecutor Jason Brown of Shreveport faced possible contempt for failing to show up for a July hearing. He says he was sick, not sure if he had covid and that no one would answer the phone at the courthouse. Brown said it would be irresponsible for him to drive to Calcasieu from Shreveport when he was running fever and unsure whether he had covid.

Judge Ware criticized Brown, saying he was disrespectful and admonished him for not taking the proceedings seriously. Ware told Brown he is not easily offended but was so by Brown’s callousness and casualness. But Ware did not find Brown in contempt.

Earlier, much of the day was spent in a tedious and contentious hearing on whether Brown and former First Assistant D.A. Cynthia Killingsworth should be found in contempt for not turning over information favorable to Julian to defense attorneys.

Under what they call the Brady Rule, prosecutors are required to furnish defense attorneys with any information they have that is favorable to the defendant. In this case, Julian’s attorneys plan to argue that he acted in self-defense. They consider any evidence Miller, the man killed, was violent, to be Brady material that might help exonerate Julian.

Defense attorney Adam Johnson enumerated the examples of Brady violations he saw, raising his voice, asking, “What else we gotta do to get Brady enforced around here!” Johnson told the judge, “You will send a message with your ruling. You will tell them whether Brady matters!”

“These are the people who hold other people responsible,” said Johnson. “It’s a 'Don’t ask, don’t tell policy. There is no wiggle room here!”

Attorney for Killingsworth, Carla Sigler, admitted to the judge, “Maybe there are changes that need to be made, but not here today.”

Sigler told the court that to find the prosecutors guilty of contempt he must conclude that there was “willful disobedience, consciously wrong conduct for an evil purpose and corrupt.”

Ultimately, Ware decided there were “Brady violations” but that it did not rise to the level of contempt. The judge said he was not happy and warned that there’s a new D.A. in town and that findings in the case should reverberate and put everyone on notice that “Brady is alive and well” and that violation of the brady rule “will not be tolerated.”

Earlier, defense attorneys put on several Lake Charles police officers to testify about offense reports in their files that mention various times Miller was investigated or arrested. The defense got the reports by making public records requests to Lake Charles Police, but defense attorneys feel the state should have provided the reports in the discovery process.

Killingsworth testified that she helped develop the district attorney’s policy and procedure paper on providing Brady material to defense attorneys, and she says she taught at the Louisiana District Attorney’s Association and trained other attorneys.

She testified about the Calcasieu D.A.'s office “open file” discovery which allows defense attorneys to examine everything they have in their file.

Killingsworth says she painstakingly searched for all information defense attorneys were entitled to and that which Ware ordered her to produce.

Killingsworth says she did not go looking for information on the victim because he’s deceased. She said she would only be required to investigate an “overt act” on the part of a victim that might be pertinent to what led to his killing.

“I just don’t investigate victims that cannot defend themselves,” she said. “I don’t think it’s appropriate to trash the victim.”

Under cross-examination, Defense Attorney Todd Clemons questioned Killingsworth’s basis for calling Miller a victim, suggesting that just because he was killed does not mean he was a victim.

“Because of the facts and circumstances, Miller is a victim,” said Killingsworth.

As well, Killingsworth said she’s not required to investigate for defense attorneys.

“I’m not going to search for things they want. I’m not going to do their job,” she said.

Killingsworth testified she thought allegations against her were “wrong, insulting” and said she thought it was unfair she was in court under the circumstances.

“My intent was to comply with every order of the court,” she said.

Brown also testified saying he thinks the defense is obligated to investigate their own case.

“We’re not required to go on a fishing expedition for the defense,” he said.

In a somewhat contentious exchange, defense Attorney Adam Johnson pressed Brown on never having searched in the D.A.'s office computer for Ernest Miller or a key witness who may have credibility problems.

Johnson expressed amazement the state had not provided police reports which describe Miller as in a vehicle and being abusive toward Tiffany Robinson, a witness.

Julian was not present for the hearing. He will not be tried before next year, by which time there will be a newly elected judge, Kendrick Guidry, and a new district attorney, Stephen Dwight. Ware leaves office at the end of the year.

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