I posted the original story a while back, here is a follow-up fron the NY Times:
** When Law Prevents Righting a Wrong**
STAPLES HUGHES, a North Carolina lawyer, was on the witness stand and about to disclose a secret he believed would free an innocent man from prison. But the judge told Mr. Hughes to stop.
“If you testify,” Judge Jack A. Thompson said at a hearing last year on the prisoner’s request for a new trial, “I will be compelled to report you to the state bar. Do you understand that?”
But Mr. Hughes continued. Twenty-two years before, he said, a client, now dead, confessed that he had acted alone in committing a double murder for which another man was also serving life. After his own imprisoned client died, Mr. Hughes recalled last week, “it seemed to me at that point ethically permissible and morally imperative that I spill the beans.”
Judge Thompson, of the Cumberland County Superior Court in Fayetteville, did not see it that way, and some experts in legal ethics agree with him. The obligation to keep a client’s secrets is so important, they say, that it survives death and may not be violated even to cure a grave injustice — for example, the imprisonment for 26 years of another man, in Illinois, who was freed just last month.
. . . . . .
Other lawyers have recently faced similar choices. In the Illinois case, Dale Coventry and W. Jameson Kunz waited 26 years to speak up about a client’s confession that freed Alton Logan, who had been serving a life sentence for murder. The lawyers said their client had given them permission to talk once he was dead. Last month, Mr. Logan was granted a new trial and freed on bond.
A Virginia lawyer, Leslie P. Smith, waited 10 years to disclose a secret that may save Daryl R. Atkins from execution, acting only after the Virginia State Bar gave him permission to speak.
Those lawyers have faced criticism from some laypeople for staying quiet so long. Mr. Hughes, by contrast, was rewarded with a disciplinary complaint for speaking up at all.
“Mr. Hughes has committed professional misconduct,” Judge Thompson wrote last year in a decision refusing to consider testimony that seemed to clear Mr. Hunt. The disciplinary complaint against Mr. Hughes was dismissed in January in a confidential decision. But the next day, the North Carolina Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of Judge Thompson’s ruling, which had also accepted the prosecution’s argument that Mr. Hughes’ testimony was properly excluded because it was hearsay. Mr. Hughes is 56 and has seen a few things in a long career as a defense lawyer. He said there was not much reason to focus on his own travails.
“The only consequence for me is the bitterness and anger I feel over Mr. Hunt,” Mr. Hughes said. “I go home, have a glass of wine, work in the yard. And there’s a guy sitting in a prison camp two counties away, and my feeling is he’s going to be there for the rest of his life.”