State Bar of Texas Disbars Charles J. Sebesta for Prosecutorial Misconduct
State Bar of Texas Disbars Charles J. Sebesta for Prosecutorial Misconduct in Prosecution of Anthony Graves
You can read the State Bar’s Judgement of Disbarment in Adobe .pdf format
Statement of Counsel for Anthony Graves
Regarding the State Bar’s Ruling that Charles Sebesta
Should be Disbarred for Violating Ethical Rules
Statement of Kathryn Kase, Neal Manne and Charles R. Eskridge III, counsel for Anthony Graves:
We are gratified that the grievance panel of the State Bar of Texas, after hearing all of the evidence, has determined that former Burleson County prosecutor Charles J. Sebesta Jr. violated the ethical rules of the profession in prosecuting Anthony Graves. We believe the violations found by the grievance panel fully warranted Mr. Sebesta’s disbarment. We believe no prosecutor found to have engaged in the conduct determined by the grievance panel—and indeed, by the Fifth Circuit—should be permitted to maintain a law license in the State of Texas. We respect the wisdom and courage of the grievance panel in reaching this decision, and we appreciate their time and service to a matter so important to the legal profession.
Mr. Graves was convicted of multiple murders in 1994 in a trial that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit eventually determined was tainted by prosecutorial misconduct, deliberate hiding of evidence, suborning of false testimony from key witnesses, and other wrongdoing by the prosecutor, Mr. Sebesta. These violations of Mr. Graves’ fundamental constitutional rights resulted in him spending 18 and one-half years incarcerated, including 14 years on Death Row, during which he faced two execution dates. If not for the tireless efforts of other lawyers, Mr. Graves would have been executed by the State for crimes he did not commit and that we believe Mr. Sebesta knew he did not commit.
Mr. Graves’ complete innocence was ultimately recognized by a special prosecutor who re-examined the case in 2010. His innocence was officially confirmed by the State of Texas itself, which deemed Mr. Graves to be “actually innocent” and paid him some compensation for his wrongful imprisonment. Throughout the ordeal, and even after Mr. Graves’ exoneration, Mr. Sebesta continued to claim he had done nothing wrong in prosecuting Mr. Graves. Grotesquely, Mr. Sebesta continued to torment Mr. Graves and his family by insisting both in public statements and on a web site he maintained that Mr. Graves really was a murderer and was guilty of the crimes.
We serve as pro bono counsel to Mr. Graves in a grievance he filed with the State Bar of Texas against Mr. Sebesta in January 2014. Based on our presentations to the Bar, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel determined in July 2014 that there was “just cause” to believe that Mr. Sebesta had violated the ethical rules, and that it would take over and prosecute the grievance against him. Despite efforts by Mr. Sebesta to derail those proceedings, the Bar convened a disciplinary hearing against Mr. Sebesta in College Station, Texas. That hearing unfolded over four days of live argument and testimony, on May 11 through 14. The grievance panel consisted of three independent individuals (including a current assistant district attorney) who heard not only opening and closing arguments, but also evidence, including extensive live testimony from more than a dozen witnesses. Mr. Graves, his mother, his two defense counsel and the judge at his capital trial, and Mr. Sebesta were among those who gave sworn testimony.
Mr. Graves attended all of the proceedings, except for certain testimony (such as the testimony of his mother) that was too painful for him to relive. One or another of us was present for the entire hearing to hear the evidence, represent Mr. Graves, and assist as appropriate the lawyers who prosecuted the case for the Bar.
We applaud and highly commend the lawyers representing the State Bar of Texas, Laura Popps and Elizabeth Stevens, for their diligence, their mastery of the facts and law, their professionalism, and for the respect they showed at all times to Mr. Graves and his family. They represent the very highest aspirations of the legal profession. They conducted devastating cross-examinations of Mr. Sebesta and his witnesses, repeatedly exposing their testimony as mistaken, implausible, and, in many instances, incredible.
The public was not able to witness the State Bar’s effort to hold Mr. Sebesta accountable because of a Bar rule that allowed Mr. Sebesta to choose to have the hearing take place in private, closed to the media and to all public scrutiny. In urging the Bar to change that rule, the Houston Chronicle editorialized in August 2014 that “A rule that permits a closed trial against a prosecutor charged with violating the public trust does not inspire faith in the system.” We, too, urge the Bar to change its rule.
We also are very concerned by some testimony that continued to promote the deliberate falsehood that Mr. Graves somehow was involved in the horrifying murders at issue in his 1994 trial. We are considering whether additional grievances should be instituted against licensed professionals who engaged in such conduct in their sworn testimony. Whether these matters are appropriate for referral on criminal charges of perjury and obstruction of justice are for others to decide.
The ordeal experienced by Mr. Graves is almost unimaginable. In an accompanying media statement released concurrently with this one, Mr. Graves notes that now, finally, he feels truly free. We are humbled and inspired by the grace and character he has shown throughout—including when he shook Mr. Sebesta’s hand after the hearing ended and wished him well.
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Kathryn Kase is Executive Director of Texas Defender Service, a non-profit organization committed to making the Texas criminal justice system more fair and just, especially in death penalty cases.
Neal Manne is Managing Partner of Susman Godfrey, LLP, a leading national law firm focused on high-stakes commercial litigation.
Charles R. Eskridge III is a Partner in the Houston office of Quinn Emanuel, LLP, an international law firm focused on litigation.
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