Former St. Lawrence County DA Rain suspended from practicing law for two years for misconduct
Thursday, June 28, 2018 - 1:11 pm

By ANDY GARDNER

CANTON -- Mary Rain has been suspended from practicing law in New York state for two years for misconduct during her tenure as St. Lawrence County district attorney.

The New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division Third Judicial Department issued the ruling on Thursday.

The report says two petitions alleged “29 distinct violations of the rules of professional conduct” stemming from the Oral “Nick” Hillary prosecution, her allowing an unqualified intern to try a felony case, and other incidents.

In their ruling, the court noted that Rain tried to blame her conduct on negligence, but they didn’t buy it.

“Turning to the issue of the appropriate disciplinary sanction, we have considered respondent's submission in mitigation, wherein she largely contends that much of her misconduct was the result of her mere negligence as opposed to intentional conduct. However, it is evident from the record that throughout much of the events underlying these proceedings, respondent acted with either the intent or knowledge of the effect her actions would have,” the ruling says. “Moreover, at the time of her misconduct, respondent was a seasoned prosecutor with extensive experience, and the majority of her violations evidence a pattern of disregard for defendants' rights.

“Further, respondent's lack of candor during petitioner's investigation into her actions further demonstrates her inability to take responsibility for her actions … Beyond the conduct underlying these proceedings, we note that respondent's misconduct is aggravated by, among other things, her disciplinary history, which includes three prior admonitions and a letter of caution.”

Withheld Witness in the Nick Hillary Case

In connection with the Nick Hillary case, the court faulted Rain for attempting to withhold exculpatory evidence. During Hillary’s September 2016 trial for the 2011 murder of 12-year-old Garrett Phillips, it was revealed in court that then-DA Rain was aware of a state prison inmate who made statements to state and Potsdam police that he saw someone other than the defendant entering the apartment where Phillips lived with his mother shortly before the murder.

“The Referee determined that respondent had consciously disregarded the attorney-client relationship of an incarcerated witness by directing investigators to disregard the witness's expressed wishes, stated through his attorney, that the attorney be present during an interview that took place at the facility in which he was incarcerated. Accordingly, the Referee determined that her actions constituted conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice and adversely reflected on her fitness as a lawyer,” the ruling against Rain says. “Specifically, the Referee determined that respondent had been provided an oral summary of the above-referenced witness statement that contained exculpatory material, and that respondent failed to take any action or make any disclosures. Such conduct was found by the Referee to constitute the improper suppression of evidence that respondent had a legal obligation to produce … and violated her duty as a prosecutor in criminal litigation.

“Finally, in connection with the withheld [potentially exculpatory evidence], the Referee sustained the charge alleging that respondent had attempted to mislead County Court with respect to her knowledge of the existence of exculpatory material and, in doing so, violated Rules of Professional Conduct … in that she made a false statement of fact or law to a tribunal.”

Unqualified Intern Tries Felony Case

In April 2016, Rain allowed Jonathan Jirik, a law intern who had three times failed the bar exam, to represent the people in a felony matter in front of Judge Jerome Richards.

Richards dismissed the case and alerted the Third Appellate Division of the incident. He then recused himself from all cases related to the SLC District Attorney’s Office. Jirik was stripped of ability to perform duties for the DA’s office.

“On charges 1 (A) and 1 (B) of the July 2017 petition, the Referee determined that respondent consciously disregarded this Court's order authorizing a law intern in her office … by failing to seek redesignation of the intern following the intern's failure of the bar examination and by allowing the intern to improperly conduct a felony jury trial and related suppression hearing. The Referee determined that respondent violated the Rules of Professional Conduct via her conscious disregard of this Court's order, her failure to adequately supervise the intern and by aiding the intern in the unauthorized practice of law,” the Third Appellate Division’s ruling reads.

Other Misconduct

In the court’s other findings against Rain, it was determined she made prejudicial remarks to a grand jury in an unspecified case, and also served grand jury subpoenas with no intention of presenting the witnesses to a grand jury.

“On the first charge of professional misconduct in the March 2017 petition, the Referee determined that respondent had engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice and conduct adversely reflecting on her fitness as a lawyer due to certain prosecutorial misconduct … respondent had made four separate improper remarks during her summation that ‘exceeded the bounds of fair advocacy’ such that ‘no curative instruction could have alleviated the prejudice created’ and, accordingly, respondent's actions deprived the defendant of a fair trial,” the ruling reads. “On the second charge in the March 2017 petition, the Referee determined that respondent improperly executed and served grand jury subpoenas with no intention of presenting the information obtained to an actual grand jury, instead providing the information garnered from the subpoenas to police to aid in their investigation. The Referee found that respondent's use of the subpoenas as an investigative tool violated well-established principles that limit the subpoena process to proceedings before a grand jury or court … The Referee ultimately determined that respondent's actions constituted fraudulent conduct which was prejudicial to the administration of justice and adversely reflected on her fitness as a lawyer.”

The complete ruling can be read here.

Go here for a look back at Rain’s rocky tenure as St. Lawrence County DA.