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3 judges urged to suspend lawyer

Disciplinary office seeks sanction for noted prosecutor

By Shelley Murphy
Globe Staff / December 10, 2010

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The state Office of Bar Counsel argued yesterday that a veteran prosecutor deliberately withheld evidence in a high-profile Mafia case in the early 1990s. The office urged a three-judge panel to suspend the prosecutor’s law license for at least two years.

But a lawyer for Assistant US Attorney Jeffrey Auerhahn said that the prosecutor has been “a model of integrity’’ in his 25 years with the Justice Department and that it would be “a career-ending’’ move if he were suspended for what he described as a one-time unintentional mistake made decades ago.

“There’s no one in this court who says that Auerhahn was the win-at-all costs, cut-the-corners kind of prosecutor,’’ said Boston attorney Michael D. Ricciuti, a former US prosecutor who once worked alongside Auerhahn. “There was no intentional violation of any rule.’’

Ricciuti urged the federal judges to find that no professional misconduct occurred.

US District Judges Rya W. Zobel, William G. Young, and George A. O’Toole Jr. said they will review voluminous records filed in the case before deciding whether to impose any sanctions on Auerhahn, who is currently assigned to the antiterrorism and national security squad.

But Young said he was “a little taken aback’’ by the suggestion that their decision could be career-ending for Auerhahn, noting that the judges are not being asked to disbar him and that it is up to the Justice Department to decide whether he should remain on the job.

In 2005, US District Chief Judge Mark L. Wolf released Mafia capo Vincent Ferrara from prison after finding that Auerhahn had improperly and possibly illegally failed to tell defense lawyers in the early 1990s that a key witness had tried to recant his assertion that Ferrara ordered the 1985 slaying of Vincent “Jimmy’’ Limoli in the North End.

Ferrara said he was innocent of the slaying but he pleaded guilty to murder, along with racketeering charges, under a deal that sent him to prison for 22 years, rather than risk a conviction that could lead to life in prison.

Wolf also ordered the early release in 2003 of Pasquale Barone, who admitted killing Limoli but had been wrongly convicted in federal court of carrying out the slaying under Ferrara’s orders.

An internal Justice Department investigation concluded that Auerhahn “engaged in professional misconduct and exercised poor judgment.’’ The department punished him with a letter of reprimand.

Wolf called the sanction inadequate and referred the case to the Board of Bar Overseers three years ago. The Office of Bar Counsel, which investigates complaints against lawyers, found that Auerhahn intentionally failed to document and turn over evidence to the defense that would have damaged his case against Ferrara.

First Assistant Bar Counsel Nancy E. Kaufman argued yesterday that Auerhahn should be suspended.

In a show of support, 30 prominent defense lawyers, current and former prosecutors, FBI agents, and police officers wrote to the court describing Auerhahn as ethical and honest.

Shelley Murphy can be reached at shmurphy@globe.com.