Keeping the Gate is the first to announce that an anonymous complaint addressed to the New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) has been made against famed O.J. Simpson defense attorneys Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, who are the cofounders of the Innocence Project at Yeshiva University in Manhattan.
Scheck and Neufeld are both outspoken members of the New York Commission on Forensic Science where they have been known to use their seats to publicly disparage forensic experts and bring criticism to perfectly acceptable methods utilized in America's forensic science laboratories. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, they have both claimed repeatedly that flawed forensic methods are a leading cause of wrongful convictions, and have undertaken a campaign to specifically discredit the science of forensic hair comparison both in the State of New York and at the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia.
A copy of the the JCOPE complaint was provided to CRIME LAB REPORT (www.crimelabreport.com), for which I am the Chief Managing Editor. We contacted JCOPE to confirm that the complaint had been received by their office but we did not receive a return communication.
Also listed as recipients of the complaint were THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, THE WASHINGTON POST, and THE NEW YORK TIMES.
Dated June 24, 2015, the 3-page, annotated complaint alleges that Scheck and Neufeld stand to gain financially from a review of hair comparison cases being undertaken in the State of New York, ostensibly for the purpose of determining if past forensic malpractice may have resulted in erroneous convictions.
But according to the author of the complaint, who is identified only as a concerned employee of a crime laboratory falling under the commission's jurisdiction:
"Since these two individuals stand to financially gain, through percentages paid to the 'wrongfully accused' both personally, and through the organization they cofounded, it is in their best interest to expand the hair review as broadly as possible and characterize everything as an 'error'."
Interestingly, the JCOPE complaint comes on the heels of two other noteworthy events related to the New York Innocence Project.
The first was the May 13th resignation of the Chief Legal Counsel for the Innocence Project of Texas, Jeff Blackburn. Blackburn argued that:
". . . the New York-based Innocence Project went from being a small nonprofit to an organization with a multi-million dollar budget. As its size grew, so did its appetite for money and its need to control the reform movement. What was once a movement is now a business. The Innocence Project now thrives on large contributions from the ultra-rich. It is full of Wall Street types and celebrities - this year the organization is even honoring a potentate from Goldman Sachs at an exclusive gathering in New York."
Second, Blackburn's accusation that the New York Innocence Project has grown into a multi-million dollar juggernaut explains what was witnessed on June 19, 2015 at the meeting of the New York Commission on Forensic Science.
Three prominent defense attorneys with seats on the commission - Barry Scheck, Peter Neufeld, and Marvin Schechter - all withheld their votes to recognize the accreditation of the Nassau County Crime Laboratory for the most perplexing of reasons - a supposedly invalid DNA interpretation method.
But in a vigorous exchange between Barry Scheck and the director of the Nassau County lab, captured on video and published as an open meeting record, it was made clear that the controversial method criticized by Scheck was not even being used by the laboratory.
It didn't matter, apparently. The possibility of using it was enough.
So, three trial attorneys, all who stand to gain financially from defending clients against incriminating scientific evidence, decided to cast aspersions on a legitimate scientific entity, not because it was doing something in violation of its accreditation requirements, but because, well, it might in the future.
It is not clear whether any investigation will be conducted to determine if there has been misconduct or, at least, conflicts of interest on the part of Scheck and Neufeld. They are both wildly powerful figures in New York legal and judicial circles.
What is clear, however, is that the incessant legal attacks on forensic scientists and their methods as leveled by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, do in fact create marvelous opportunities for financial gain and political relevance.
In the 20 plus years that the Innocence Project has been in operation, it seems that its operations and its financial practices have never once been subjected to aggressive public scrutiny. Perhaps it finally should be.
Ethics Complaint (Full Text)
Resignation Letter by Jeff Blackburn (Full Text)
June 19, 2015 Open Meetings Video (go to time stamp 1:06)
Ethics Complaint Brought Against NY Forensic Science Commissioners