Many in the legal community was stunned on Tuesday, December 15, 2009, when a U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney acquitted former Broadcom chief financial officer William J. Ruehle, and dismissed charges of fraud and backdating stock options against former Broadcom CEO Henry T. Nicholas. In citing grounds for dismissal, the judge listed prosecutorial misconduct and lack of evidence as two primary reasons for his decision.
This case is noteworthy because the judge’s decision to dismiss the case in its entirety rather than let it proceed to the jury on the prosecutorial misconduct ground is a very rare exercise of judicial authority. This ruling is especially surprising to some as it came in a high profile case where the federal government had been collecting evidence of alleged backdating of the Broadcom’s stock options for almost two years.
If the dismissal stands, the government will be precluded from ever raising the same allegations again because Judge Carney has dismissed the case already presented to the jury, and Broadcom chief financial officer William J. Ruehle would claim double jeopardy if the prosecution sought to brings the charges again.
To support his dismissal with prejudice, the judge cited intimidation of witnesses by prosecution and threatening witnesses with additional charges in an effort to shape their testimony. The conduct was particular egregious because those witnesses received grants of immunity and were represented by counsel. The U.S Attorney’s office denied making any threats. However, the judge determined otherwise, and forced the leading prosecutor on this case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Stolper, to sign a non-prosecution agreement with one of the intimidated witnesses. From that point on, other attorneys renewed their prosecutorial misconduct motions. This decision has left a mark on the Los Angeles U.S. Attorney’s Office’s reputation and credibility.
In 2009, the United States Supreme Court has ruled in yet another prosecutorial misconduct case in Van de Kamp v. Goldstein (2009) 129 S. Ct. 855. In Goldstein, the defendant was wrongfully convicted based on the testimony of a jailhouse snitch. The snitch received substantial undiscovered benefits in exchange for his testimony at the Goldstein trial for an alleged murder committed in Long Beach, California. The High Court has determined that although the prosecutors were aware of the circumstances surrounding the jailhouse snitch testimony, the prosecutors were entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity.
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