Minnesota Supreme Court approves recommendation to suspend prosecutor who admittedly lied to judge during trial

 January 5, 2024

A county prosecutor in Minnesota admitted last year to lying to a judge during a trial and subsequently attempting to cover up that initial lie with additional deception, which resulted in the case being dismissed for prosecutorial misconduct, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

That attorney, senior Hennepin County prosecutor Catherine McEnroe, has now been suspended for 60 days by the Minnesota Supreme Court as punishment for her dishonesty and professional misconduct.

The disciplinary measure is likely cold comfort for the alleged teenage victim in the rape case that was dismissed due to McEnroe's lies, given that the purported assailant was allowed to go free without facing any additional punishment for his supposed crime.

Prosecutor in trouble for lying to judge

It was nearly one year ago when local Fox affiliate KMSP reported in January 2023 that McEnroe was placed on leave and under investigation after admitting to having lied to the judge presiding over a felony sexual assault trial, which resulted in that case being dismissed.

Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty, who was brought in to replace McEnroe, said at the time, "Our ethical obligations, one of the most basic ones, is that you may not lie to the court, period. And that's what happened in this case."

The case involved a felony first-degree criminal sexual contact charge against Marco Tulio Rivera Enamorado, 35, who was alleged to have raped a teenage family member a few years earlier. He had been held in jail for nine months in 2022 following his arrest and pending trial and proclaimed both his innocence and his freedom after he was released from custody upon the dismissal of the case.

Unnecessary initial lie made worse with subsequent coverup effort

The problem in this case, according to KMSP, was an incident that occurred while the victim was testifying and her mother -- who was also a witness and had been accused of lying about the alleged crime by the defense -- was seated in the court next to a victim support advocate from the prosecutor's office who passed along a secret note to McEnroe during the victim's testimony.

The note had been innocuous enough, a mere reminder about establishing for the record that the alleged crime occurred in Hennepin County, but when questioned by presiding Judge Peter Cahill about the note, McEnroe inexplicably lied and said it was about the pronunciation of the victim's name. The prosecutor then compounded that lie with a coverup in which she had the advocate write a new note and submit that to the court as if it were the original note.

The advocate later admitted to others in the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office what had really occurred, which led to the incident being reported to the judge and the case being dismissed for prosecutorial misconduct.

Stipulated agreement on disciplinary measures accepted by high court

ALAB News reported in November 2023 that following the internal investigation of McEnroe over the admitted deception, an agreement on recommended disciplinary measures was reached in late October by the dishonest prosecutor and the Minnesota Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility.

A stipulation was then filed with the Minnesota Supreme Court in which McEnroe admitted that she had violated the rules, waived an assortment of procedural rights in the matter, and agreed to the recommended discipline, which included a 60-day suspension, $900 fine, compliance with certain rules, and completion of both a professional responsibility exam and continuing education requirements.

All of that was contingent and would take effect upon the state supreme court accepting the stipulated agreement, which it did this week with an order that also chastised McEnroe for "making knowingly false statements to a court and opposing counsel during a criminal trial and engaging in dishonest conduct to cover up the false statements," per the Star Tribune.

Case likely didn't need to be dismissed

With McEnroe now officially suspended for the next two months, the Star Tribune noted that attention has turned to her replacement, Moriarty, and the sharp criticism she has received for immediately moving to have the sexual assault case dismissed and charges dropped over her predecessor's lies and misconduct.

There were "alternatives to the dismissal, and it was not the inevitable outcome of [McEnroe]'s misconduct," explained Binh Tuong, deputy director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility, who added, "The false statement was not substantive, there were other prosecutors who could have completed the trial (with just one professional witness remaining), and defense counsel's motion for a dismissal was still pending with the court."

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