CO Prosecutors Fight Reform Amid Felony Rise

A nearly 50 percent increase in Colorado felony filings over five years has prompted the state’s prosecutors to oppose proposals for more sentencing reform. They say recent changes in the law are letting dangerous people roam the streets.

Felony filings across Colorado increased by nearly 50 percent in the past five years, prompting concerns that recent criminal justice reforms are letting dangerous individuals roam the streets, the Denver Post reports. Prosecutors and state officials are trying to identify the causes for the swifter pace of felony filings. A surge in drug arrests may be partly responsible. The Colorado District Attorneys’ Council asked  Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office for help in analyzing crime trends. The council has asked district attorneys around the state for more information on felony filings as it prepares to fight a push for sentencing reforms in the next legislative session. Some key lawmakers want to overhaul sex offender and habitual offender statutes to give judges more flexibility in sentencing.

Prosecutors cite the rise in felony filings as cause for caution. Several fear the legislature sent the wrong signal in 2013 when it created more leniency in drug sentencing. Under that change, defendants convicted of lower-level felony drug possession can have their convictions changed to misdemeanors after completing probation. The law restricted the ability of judges to sentence offenders convicted of certain drug crimes to prison. District attorneys also blame the rising felony filings on state initiatives to keep more offenders out on parole and probation and under pretrial supervision instead of behind bars. Others say the 2012 vote to legalize recreational marijuana has enticed career criminals to move to Colorado. “There has been a lot of criminal justice reform in the last 10 years in Colorado,” said Mesa County District Attorney Dan Rubinstein, who said his office is overloaded with criminal cases. “Sometimes those pushes go too far and the pendulum needs to swing a little bit back in the other direction. There was needed criminal justice reform, but not everything has to always be about diverting people away from prison.”



Police Union Blasts Chicago Prosecutor After Exonerations

After 16 defendants are exonerated in a police misconduct case, the Fraternal Order of Police says chief prosecutor Kim Foxx is pandering to a “powerful anti-police movement.”

After Cook County, Illinois’ first mass exoneration, the president of the Chicago Police officers’ union lambasted State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and her staff, accusing prosecutors of pandering to a “powerful anti-police movement in the city,” the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham singled out prosecutor Eric Sussman, who opted not to continue pressing charges against Jose Maysonet in a double-murder case. Sussman’s decision came after five officers who worked alongside former Det. Reynaldo Guevara indicated they would invoke their Fifth Amendment right not to testify.

Maysonet was freed last week after spending nearly three decades behind bars. Graham was responding to a Sun-Times editorial that called it “disturbing” to see the officers take the Fifth. He called the editorial “wholly biased and misinformed.” Graham told the newspaper that, “The truth is that detectives in these cases generally want to testify, but they can no longer trust the Cook County state’s attorney to rule on these cases based upon the evidence.” He said Foxx is leading a movement “away from prosecuting criminals into vilifying police officers.” Maysonet’s exoneration was followed by 15 more  stemming from cases tied to disgraced Police Sgt. Ronald Watts. It was thought to be the first mass exoneration in Cook County’s history.


A Dirty Yard Could Cost You $200K in CA Desert Cities

Cities in poor sections of the Coachella Valley use privatized prosecutors who bill residents exorbitant “prosecution fees” for minor infractions–$18,000 for a family with a busted garage door and trashy yard, $31,000 for a man who added on to his house without a permit. Advocates say the practice, sanctioned by local city councils, is a thinly veiled money-making scheme.

The Palm Springs Desert Sun investigates a local government practice in California’s Coachella Valley in which property owners guilty of minor offenses are billed “prosecution fees” that can top $200,000. In one 2015 case, Cesar Garcia was fined $900 for failing to get a building permit to expand his living room.  Earlier this year, a law firm that acts as the local prosecutor sent him a $31,000 bill for the cost of his case, threatening liquidation of his house. Garcia’s experience is not unusual in low-income cities of the Coachella Valley. Empowered by city councils in Coachella and Indio, the law firm Silver & Wright has repeatedly filed criminal charges against residents and businesses for public nuisance crimes – overgrown weeds or selling popsicles without a business license – then billed them thousands of dollars to recoup expenses.

Coachella leaders said this week they will reconsider the strategy after defense attorneys challenged in court the exorbitant fees of the privatized prosecutors. “Fixing his house was just a side effect. Collecting this money was always their goal,” said attorney Shaun Sullivan, who represents Garcia. The Desert Sun identified 18 cases in which Indio and Coachella charged defendants more than $122,000 in “prosecution fees” since they hired Silver & Wright as prosecutors a few years ago. With the addition of numerous fees,  the total price tag can rise to more than $200,000. In most of those cases, the disparity between the crime and the cost is staggering. Defendants fined a few hundred dollars ended up paying five or ten times that much to prosecutors who attended a couple of court hearings. One Coachella family with a busted garage door and a trashy yard was billed $18,500.


Phila. Police Union Says It Will Work With Prosecutor

John McNesby of the Fraternal Order of Police opposed Larry Krasner as a candidate for District Attorney. Now McNesby says, “He’s going to be on a learning curve. “We’re not trying to make it harder for him.” Krasner is a career defense attorney who had never sought public office.

Larry Krasner will become Philadelphia’s 26th district attorney in eight weeks, and already his fans and foes may be switching places, reports. A progressive coalition of groups that supported Krasner is demonstrating Thursday morning outside the District Attorney’s Office, laying out aspirations for the incoming prosecutor’s first 100 days. Lodge 5 of the Fraternal Order of Police — the most strident anti-Krasner voice during the election campaign — said it is ready to work with the man whom the union previously declared unsuitable for the post. “He’s going to be on a learning curve,” said FOP president John McNesby. “We’re not trying to make it harder for him.” Krasner is a career defense attorney who had never sought public office.

The planned demonstration by members of grassroots organizations will address topics they discussed with Krasner during the campaign — including ending cash bail, increasing transparency, and changing the office’s culture. McNesby, meanwhile, said his union has no plans to “draw lines in the sand” once Krasner takes office in the first week of January. That is a shift in tone from last month, when McNesby put out a letter to his union’s 14,500 active and retired members knocking Krasner as having “an open hostility against police and law enforcement in general.” The new district attorney, who will be paid $175,000, inherits an office with 600 employees and a $54 million annual budget.


Krasner, Justice Reform Advocate, Wins Philly DA Race

Larry Krasner will succeed the convicted Seth Williams as Philadelphia’s District Attorney. With the backing of billionaire George Soros, he opposes the death penalty, cash bail, and mass incarceration.

Larry Krasner was elected Philadelphia district attorney on Tuesday, capping what calls a once-improbable campaign to be the city’s top prosecutor. He has signalled that he would bring significant, if not drastic, changes to the office. Republican Beth Grossman failed to convince enough voters that her 21 years as an assistant district attorney made her the better choice; Krasner won by a 3-1 ratio.

Krasner promised his election would herald “transformational change” in the city’s criminal justice system and a fairness “for a system that has systematically picked on black and brown people.” The son of a crime-fiction author and an evangelical Christian minister, Krasner grew up in St. Louis, graduated from Stanford Law School, and is married to Common Pleas Court Judge Lisa Rau. The 56-year-old was assailed from the start of his campaign by critics as unsuitable for the job as an attorney best known for taking on civil rights cases and suing the Philadelphia Police Department. It was for some of the same reasons that he drew support from activists demanding criminal justice reform from an office they deemed unfair. Krasner said Tuesday that “it’s time to end the death penalty…mass incarceration … cash bail …” Billionaire George Soros sank nearly $1.7 million into Krasner’s primary election campaign. He will succeed Seth Williams, who was sentenced to a five-year prison term for corruption.


The Charging Trap: Is Throwing the Book at a Suspect Necessary?

A Pennsylvania DA says authorities should avoid the temptation to apply the maximum charges possible to ensure a conviction. He’s backed up by a reporter who found disparities in overcharging in six of the state’s counties, using a database created by Measures for Justice.

Felony or misdemeanor?

Simple assault or aggravated assault?

The difference in charges may not seem that great, but it can have large and lasting ramifications.

In Pennsylvania, what charges get filed and who gets to make that initial decision varies from county to county.

All criminal charges in Cumberland County, for instance, must be approved by the district attorney’s office before being filed.


Cumberland County (PA) District Attorney David Freed. Photo by Michael Bupp/The Sentinel

“We’re 20-plus years into that here in Cumberland County, so there are a lot of people who have worked in the system who don’t know any different,” Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed said.

But in neighboring Franklin, Adams, Perry, Dauphin and York counties, the initial decision of what to charge is largely driven by police.

Dauphin County requires prosecutor’s approval of some charges but not all, according to the Pennsylvania District Attorneys’ Association.

“You want to have the appropriate charge charged,” Freed said. “You don’t want to be in a situation where I’m going to charge a million things so that I end up with one thing. You want to charge a case appropriately.”

Bringing a prosecutor into the initial charging decision may provide a buffer to overcharging, according an analysis of court records conducted by The Sentinel.

The Sentinel reviewed all criminal cases filed in Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Adams, York and Perry counties in 2016 and separated out all simple assaults and aggravated assaults.

One of the main differences between defining simple assault and aggravated assault is the severity of the injury to the victim.

For simple assault, the defining standard is causing or attempting to cause bodily injury. Aggravated assault requires causing or attempting to cause serious bodily injury. However, what accounts for “serious” injury can be subjective.

Cumberland County featured the lowest ratio of charged aggravated assault to simple assault than any of the surrounding counties, according to The Sentinel’s analysis.

More than 88 percent of all charged assaults in the county in 2016 were deemed simple assault, the analysis found. That is roughly nine to 18 percentage points higher than all other counties.

“We have to make sure we are charging appropriately and not just charging agg so we can get the simple,” Freed said.

Raising Costs

If defendants are being charged with felony aggravated assault in one county or misdemeanor simple assault in another for the same behavior, it can raise a host of costs for both the defendant and the county.

“(A case) can result in increased bail if it’s charged inappropriately high,” Freed said.

In 2016, the median bail for a person charged with simple assault, but not aggravated assault, in Cumberland County was $10,000, according to court records.

Less than seven percent of those defendants had bail set at more than $50,000. Nearly 40 percent were released without having to pay any bail, according to The Sentinel’s analysis.

Less than one quarter of all defendants charged with simple assault last year in Cumberland County were unable to post bail, court records show.

At the same time, the median bail for a person charged with aggravated assault in the county was $50,000, five times higher than the misdemeanor counterpart, according to The Sentinel analysis.

Nearly half of all these defendants were unable to post bail, The Sentinel found.

Any defendant who is unable to post bail is taken to their county jail or prison where they remain until they come up with the money, have their bail reduced or complete their case.

Sitting at only 54 percent of total capacity, Cumberland County Prison had the lowest utilization of the six counties examined, according to Measures for Justice, a nonprofit organization that provides county-level data on criminal justice systems.

Dauphin and Adams counties jails were both above 100 percent capacity. None of the other counties had jail capacity utilization below 80 percent, according to Measures for Justice.

Cumberland County also had the highest percentage of defendants released pretrial between 2009 and 2013, with roughly 85 percent of all defendants being released, according to Measures for Justice.

“At charging, we are making a probable cause determination,” Freed said. “It’s not beyond a reasonable doubt. … Do I have reasonable cause to show that someone tried to cause serious bodily injury?”

The Link Between Charge and Conviction

Freed said the determination and oversight at charging is not a guarantee the defendant will be convicted and does not necessarily mean charges will not be reduced as the case moves forward.

“I have probable cause to charge,” he said. “That doesn’t mean I have sufficient evidence to convict.”

However, Cumberland County also has the highest conviction rate of the six counties reviewed, according to Measures for Justice.

Nearly 87 percent of cases between 2009 and 2013 resulted in a conviction in Cumberland County. In Franklin County, that number was less than 73 percent, according to Measures for Justice.

“Reasonable minds can differ about what charges should be filed and what amount of charges should be filed,” Freed said. “Should you charge everything that can possibly be charged?

“I don’t have my head in the sand. I’m not going to sit here and say that doesn’t happen around the country,” he said. “That’s the policing every assistant district attorney has to do. That’s the policing every elected or appointed district attorney has to do. …

“You have to have that probable cause.”

Joshua Vaughn is a staff reporter for The Sentinel in Cumberland County, Pa. This is a slightly edited version of a story produced as a project for the 2017 John Jay/Measures for Justice fellowship. The original version can be read here. Readers’ comments are welcome.


Ex-Phila. DA Williams Gets Maximum Five-Year Term

Seth Williams, once hailed as a long-awaited reformer of Philadelphia’s criminal justice system, was hauled out of court in handcuffs after the sentence was imposed in his corruption case. U.S. District Judge Paul Diamond called him a “criminal” who “fed his face at the trough” of public money.

Former Philadelphia District Attorney was sentenced to the maximum five years in prison, as U.S. District Judge Paul Diamond called him a “criminal” who “fed his face at the trough” of public money, reports. Williams humiliated his employees and dumped his own mother “like a sack of potatoes” by stealing money set aside to cover her nursing home care to project a “high-roller” image to the “parasites [with whom he] surrounded” himself, the judge said. When it came to Williams’ request to be released from custody before the start of his prison term to see his dying mother one last time, Diamond scoffed. “The English language doesn’t have the words to capture the outrageousness of that request,” the judge said. “The defendant stole from his mother, and now he wants to visit her?”

Williams, once hailed as a long-awaited reformer to the city’s criminal justice system, was hauled out of court in handcuffs, his shoulders slumped, his face the picture of defeat. Williams himself told the judge in a statement read by his attorney that, “Rather than holding myself to a higher standard, I squandered the trust placed in me. I lost my job, reputation, pension, house, law license, and liberty.” Tuesday’s hearing was only the latest setback for Williams, whose public life in the last year has been marked by one embarrassing blow after another, most of them self-inflicted. His failure to report more than $175,000 in gifts from wealthy benefactors prompted the city’s Ethics Board to fine him $62,000, the largest penalty against a political officeholder in the body’s 11-year history. Williams dropped his bid for a third term soon after.


Blind Injustice: How ‘Tunnel Vision’ Convicts the Innocent

Roger Dean Gillispie was found guilty of rape, even though he didn’t match eyewitness descriptions, and the evidence made clear he was nowhere near the scene of the crime. He spent more than 20 years behind bars until the Ohio Supreme Court this year gave him back his freedom. The director of the Ohio Innocence Project, who worked on his case ,tells the story.

In 1991, soon after he was sentenced to 56 years in an Ohio prison for a crime he did not commit, Roger Dean Gillispie began pestering fellow inmates to save the tinfoil from their tobacco pouches. He also gathered discarded teabags and cassette tapes—anything he could get his hands on to serve as makeshift building materials.

Then each evening, after he returned to his cell from one of his prison jobs, he devoted countless hours to creating a model of a shiny, vintage Airstream camper. It was, for him, a symbol of freedom—of the day when he would prove his innocence, leave prison behind, and see the country in just such a camper.

“Art was my daily escape,” Dean recalled. “It allowed me to live in the world that I was creating. The prison was short one inmate because, in my mind, I wasn’t there.”

Gillispie’s model of his dream camper, built in prison. Photo by Ryan Kurtz

“I was seeing the country in that little Airstream camper.”

Dean was a popular, all-American 25-year-old with a clean record and bright future in 1990, when he was plucked from the obscurity of his job as a security guard at a General Motors plant and arrested. A disgruntled co-worker had fingered him as a suspect in a string of three unsolved rapes near Dayton, Ohio.

Unfortunately for Dean, his co-worker also was a friend of the detective in charge of the investigation.

The detective, it later became apparent, put Dean in his crosshairs and developed a serious case of tunnel vision. It would cost Dean the next two decades of his life.

The human tendency toward tunnel vision is perhaps the leading cause of wrongful convictions. It occurs when an investigator develops an initial belief or suspicion which then becomes so embedded that all information encountered is interpreted or twisted to confirm that belief.

It’s a common human tendency that arises in a variety of situations in our lives. As I wrote in my recent book, Blind Injustice:

Tunnel vision served an important purpose in bygone eras. 

…Evolution favored quick decisions and the ability to ignore distractions while remaining wedded to the most obvious option. As a result, our brains innately engage in what are called “heuristics”—hardwired mental shortcuts that help us to make decisions quickly—jumping to conclusions, one could even say, without getting bogged down in too many distracting details. 

 But psychologists have realized that while heuristics were necessary in past eras, and can be helpful in many aspects of life today, they can sometimes lead to disastrous results in our complex world. And in the criminal justice system, our innate psychological instincts can cause serious problems if we’re not aware of them and don’t try to keep them in check.

An Unlikely Suspect

Dean was an unlikely suspect.

He did not match the physical description of the rapist that the victims had given after the assaults, which occurred in August 1988. For example, the rapist had a dark tan and reddish brown hair; Dean is so pale he burns instead of tans, and has had graying hair since the ninth grade.

Yet the detective got all three victims to identify Dean as their attacker by presenting him in a six-person photo lineup that was ridiculously suggestive.

Dean’s photo “was all but circled and starred,” a local newspaper later noted. Dean’s photo had a yellow background, while the other five were blue. Dean’s had a matte finish; the others were glossy. The victims described the rapist as having a wide face; Dean’s photo was a close-up, so that his face took up the entire frame, while the other five photos depicted the individuals from the chest up.

By the time the three victims chose Dean’s photo from the lineup, nearly two years had passed since the rapes. Memory experts universally agree that identifications made this long after the crime are unreliable, particularly when obtained by a detective with tunnel vision, who uses suggestive techniques to get the identification he wanted.

The detective also improperly manipulated the victims by saying that Dean was their attacker and falsely telling them that he might look different in court because he had colored his hair to trick them. The detective attempted to influence other witnesses by lying about Dean’s past to help convince them he was guilty.

At trial, Dean and numerous witnesses testified that he was camping and boating out in Kentucky at the time of the crimes. Initially, the jury split 8-4 in favor of acquittal, but following pressure from the judge to reach a resolution, the jury ultimately returned a guilty verdict.

Dean was sentenced to 22 to 56 years in prison.

Prison is bad enough for anyone, but for someone who is innocent, it’s a living hell.

“I had life by the horns before this happened,” Dean says now.

He spent his 20’s, 30’s and most of his 40’s in a seven foot -by-nine-foot cell, while his friends went on to great successes in their careers, got married and had families.

“All I could do was watch in misery at what could have been for me,” he later recalled.

But Dean did not give up. He “screamed and hollered” about his innocence for years until he caught the attention of a TV news reporter in Cincinnati, Laure Quinlivan, who aired a series of reports exposing the many flaws in the detective’s investigation.

Two Discoveries

In 2003, the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP) at the University of Cincinnati College of Law, which I co-founded and direct, took the case. We made two important discoveries.

First, Dean’s work-place enemy had tried to implicate Dean shortly after the rapes when two more-experienced detectives were in charge of the case, but those detectives quickly eliminated him as a suspect. They wrote a report outlining their reasons, including that Dean couldn’t fit into the pants worn by the rapist (one of the victims had seen the size on a tag inside the rapists’ pants).

There were other discrepancies as well and so they officially eliminated Dean as a suspect and moved on.

Subsequently, the two detectives retired, and both moved out of state; the case still unsolved. That’s when the detective who was a friend of Dean’s work-place enemy took over the case and the reports documenting the elimination of Dean as a suspect disappeared from the police file.

And so, at trial, Dean and his attorney—and more importantly, the jury—did not know Dean had been cleared.

Second, the re-investigation also identified the likely rapist as a man who lived in the Dayton area and who posed as an undercover police officer, flashed a badge, accused the women of shoplifting, then abducted and sexually assaulted them.

In 2011, based on this evidence, Dean’s convictions were vacated in both federal and state courts. After 20 years in prison, Dean was released.

But he was not completely free. The prosecutors refused to admit that they had made a mistake. Rather than investigate the alternate suspect or the detective’s misconduct, they appealed in an attempt send him back to prison.

The tunnel vision that had so infected the police investigation had similarly poisoned the prosecution—an unfortunately common phenomenon in wrongful conviction cases. The result is that police and prosecutors become so fixated on a suspect that when evidence of innocence surfaces years later, denial sets in and the new evidence is not reviewed objectively, but rather through their twisted prism.

In Blind Injustice, I wrote at length about the psychological factors that cause prosecutors to move into a state of denial in post-conviction innocence cases rather than face the facts.

These include cognitive dissonance, bureaucratic evil (“groupthink” mentalities where the goals of the institution—the prosecutor’s office—replace the conscience of the individual actors) and the engrained dehumanization of criminal defendants that occurs in prosecutors’ offices.

The real “soulshine’ camper, ready for the open road. Photo by Pam Sidley

But justice finally prevailed on July 26, 2017—six years after Dean’s release—when the Ohio Supreme Court denied the prosecution’s last appeal. Dean’s exoneration was complete.

One week earlier, Dean completed his makeover of his real 1963 Airstream camper that he had purchased for next to nothing after his release. During the six years the prosecutors spent appealing, Dean spent month after month fixing it up with the same investment of emotional and physical devotion as he had put into the model camper in prison.


He named the camper “Soulshine,” after an Allman Brothers song he listened to on headphones the many nights he worked in his cell on his beloved model.

When you can’t find the light that guides you in the cloudy days,

When the stars ain’t shining bright and you feel like you’ve lost your way,

When those candle lights of home burn so very far away,

Well, you’ve got to let your soul shine.

Dean does not blame the victims.

Mark Godsey

Mark Godsey. Photo by Ryan Kurtz

He thinks they were violated twice — once by the rapist and then by the criminal justice system. Although Dean has sued the officials responsible for unjustly taking away his freedom, he is moving on with his life.

Soon he will take his camper and head out to see the places he dreamed about in his tiny prison cell. Wherever he goes, the model camper he made so many years ago will be with him—a reminder to always let his soul shine.

Mark Godsey is a professor of law at the University of Cincinnati and co-founder of the Ohio Innocence Project. He began representing Dean Gillispie in 2003. Dean’s story, as well as the psychological concepts of tunnel vision and innocence denial, are chronicled in Godsey’s new book “Blind Injustice.” Readers’ comments are welcome.


PA Prosecutor Accused of Using Power to Help Girlfriend

A grand jury filed more than a dozen criminal charges against District Attorney Miles Karson of Mercer County, Pa. Karson, 72, was accused of obstructing the administration of law by asking other officials to help a woman who was put on probation on drug charges.

Mercer County, Pa., District Attorney Miles Karson says won’t resign and will fight accusations that he used his power and influence to benefit his girlfriend, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. After a seven-month grand jury investigation, the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office on Thursday filed more than a dozen criminal charges against  Karson, 72. “I can assure you that I have committed no offenses and I am anxious to fight the allegations,” he said. Karson, who took office in January 2016, is charged with multiple counts of obstructing the administration of law; official oppression; attempted obstruction; and hindering prosecution.

“The investigation revealed that Karson intentionally obstructed the administration of law through breaches of his official duties, interfered with the rights of others through abuse of the power vested in his office and hindered the apprehension and prosecution of his paramour, Tonya Bulboff,” the grand jury said. Its report outlines incident after incident in which the district attorney is alleged to have interfered with the justice system on behalf of Bulboff, 39, who was put on probation for a year on drug charges this month. 39-year-old Mercer County woman identified as Tonya Bulboff. Among other charges, the grand jury said that Karson contacted the Farrell, Pa., police chief to request a low or non-monetary bond for Bulboff, who had been arrested for theft of more than $30,000 from a local business through stolen checks and forgeries. Karson was also accused telling a judge that Bulboff was a “family friend” and asking that “she not go to jail” or that she receive low bail. Karson allegedly contacted an alleged victim in a theft case against Bulboff in an effort to to persuade him to be “lenient” on Bulboff at a preliminary hearing.


Doctor’s Attorney Donated to Vance Amid Plea Deal

A donation of $250 to the campaign of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance raises questions about how his office vets contributions for potential conflicts of interest, CBS News reports. The donation came from a defense attorney on the day a key motion was filed in a sexual assault case that ended with a plea deal.

A donation of $250 to the campaign of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance raises questions about how his office vets contributions for potential conflicts of interest, CBS News reports. The donation came from a defense attorney on the day a key motion was filed in a disturbing sexual assault case that ended with a plea deal. Revelations that Vance’s office declined to charge Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein after an New York police sex assault investigation have increased scrutiny on donations to Vance, who won re-election by a landslide in 2013 and is running unopposed in next month’s election. The Weinstein case surfaced reports that Vance also received a donation in 2012 from an attorney associated with Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump, after his office closed an investigation into allegations the Trumps intentionally misled investors about the value of a Trump hotel. That donation was returned after questions were raised.

In 2015, Vance’s office was handling the case of an obstetrician accused of sexually abusing six patients. One woman told prosecutors that when she was 30 weeks pregnant Dr. Robert Hadden forcefully pulled her pants and underwear down. “He then grabbed her buttocks, while rotating her body around, squeezing and grasping, ‘cupping and manhandling’ her buttocks, hips and vagina,” court records said. Vance’s office found 18 other women who said they suffered similar assaults by Hadden over two decades. Hadden was indicted in 2014 for six of the alleged assaults. On October 9, 2015, his attorney, Isabelle Kirshner, filed a lengthy motion opposing the prosecution. Later that day, she donated $250 to Vance’s reelection campaign. Eventually, Hadden forfeited his medical license and pled guilty to two counts, but he never was incarcerated. That Kirshner’s donation wasn’t returned highlights just how flawed Vance’s system of vetting donations has been, said Sonia Ossorio of the National Organization for Women.