November 9, 2009
Benjamin Wagner, President Obama’s nominee for U.S. Attorney, Eastern District of California, delivered the Witkin Schaber Lecture on November 5, 2009, in Sacramento.
The lecture is sponsored by the Witkin Institute, McGeorge’s Capital Center for Law & Policy, and the Sacramento County Bar Association. The lecture is named for Gordon D. Schaber, the legendary dean of McGeorge who transformed the law school into an international leader during his 35-year reign.
Wagner spoke on “Ethical Challenges Facing the Department of Justice and Federal Prosecutors” to an audience of more than 100 attorneys and law students at The Sutter Club. He focused on the prosecutorial duty to provide exculpatory evidence to the defense under Brady. Adherence to that rule has come under fire from criminal defense attorneys across the country in the wake of the court-ordered dismissal of a corruption verdict against former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens because of prosecutorial misconduct.
Wagner, the Chief of Special Prosecutions in the U.A. Attorney’s office, presented statistics to dispel the argument that prosecutorial misconduct is widespread, but cautioned all attorneys to “do more than just try to stay within ethical guidelines. Treat your opposition with dignity and never try to undermine the integrity of your courtroom opponent.”
He also advised the future attorneys present to “be on guard when the pressure is on” in your practice. “We all are prone to rationalize our conduct. If you ever get in a jam, don’t let it slide. Our office has prosecuted many attorneys who have “may have crossed a line not knowing it initially” then drifted farther and farther down the slippery slope.
Wagner’s confirmation by the full U.S. Senate is expected in the next few weeks. The U.S. Attorney in the Sacramento-based eastern District is the top law enforcement officer in an area that encompasses 34 counties stretching from the Tehachapis in the south to the Oregon border. The spot became vacant when McGregor Scott, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, stepped down in early January to enter private practice.
Scott, an adjunct professor at McGeorge, and Lawrence Brown, the acting U.S. Attorney, were present at the luncheon speech. They were joined at the head table by four former U.S. Attorneys, Judge William Shubb, George O’Connell, Paul Seave and Charles Stevens. Dean Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker and Professor Leslie Jacobs, the director of the Capital Center for Law & Policy, introduced Wagner and honored guests.