State Bar disciplinary hearing slated for innocence attorney

AP News
|
Posted: Jan 09, 2016 12:37 PM

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina attorney who has worked tirelessly for the release of the wrongly convicted from prison now faces accusations of misconduct.

A disciplinary hearing before the North Carolina State Bar is scheduled to begin Monday for Chris Mumma, who is accused of violating rules of professional conduct in a case involving Joseph Sledge.

Sledge was imprisoned for almost 40 years for a double murder before being released one year ago.

Some of the men whom Mumma helped free from prison plan to attend the hearing, including Greg Taylor, the first person exonerated by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission that Mumma helped establish.

Mumma represented Taylor and several other men directly, and others have been released through the commission's work. She also referred cases to the Duke Law Innocence Project that resulted in exonerations.

Taylor served almost 17 years in prison for murder before a three-judge panel released him in February 2010.

"The prosecution has everything on their side and all Chris has is the truth," Taylor said. "And sometimes that's not enough. And she sees that over and over again when she sees people who are going to die in prison when they're innocent."

The State Bar's Disciplinary Hearing Commission can dismiss the charges or can issue punishment ranging from admonishment to disbarment. Either side can appeal discipline to the state Court of Appeals.

The complaint before the State Bar says Mumma, director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence, violated rules as she pursued DNA testing on a water bottle she took from the home of family members of men who she thought might be guilty of the murders of a mother and daughter from Bladen County who were stabbed to death in 1976. Sledge was convicted of those murders.

The complaint says that during a visit to the home of Marie Andrus, Mumma left with a water bottle that didn't belong to her. When she realized this, she didn't return the bottle to Andrus. When Andrus declined to provide family members' DNA samples, Mumma submitted the bottle for DNA testing anyway. In November 2013, she learned the DNA didn't match the crime scene evidence.

Mumma then called Andrus back and asked if anyone else had been in the home during their earlier interview. She again requested DNA samples, which Andrus again refused to provide, the complaint says.

"Mumma never mentioned to (the relative) that she had already obtained a DNA sample that may have been ... family DNA that was tested which did not match DNA from Davis crime scene evidence," the complaint says.

Part of the State Bar complaint accuses Mumma of violating Andrus' rights. However, in a statement that's part of the evidence, Andrus said she doesn't support the prosecution of Mumma.

"I know Ms. Mumma does good things for our criminal justice system in trying to get wrongful convictions overturned and innocent people out of prison, and I think it would be a shame if she was not allowed to continue doing that work," Andrus wrote.

Katherine Jean, who leads the State Bar's prosecution of lawyers, declined to discuss the case, as did Mumma and her attorneys. In her response, Mumma has agreed to some of the facts of the case as presented by the bar but questions whether she violated the rules.

Mumma also faces a second charge of turning over a transcript of a commission hearing to a reporter before it was certified. Commission officials say the transcript isn't public record until it's certified.

___

Online:

http://www.innocencecommission-nc.gov/

http://www.ncbar.com/

http://www.nccai.org/

___

Martha Waggoner can be reached at http://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/martha-waggoner