Since 2003 U.S. Assistant Attorney Jeffrey Auerhahn has been under a cloud of suspicion, when a federal judge accused him of outrageous misconduct.
Now in a significant but quiet move, a panel of federal judges has lifted the cloud for Auerhahn, who was facing disciplinary action while handing the court's chief judge a rebuke.
Trouble began for Auerhahn with his case against Mafia lieutenant Vincent Ferrara, known to the cops as “Vinnie the Animal.”
In the 1990s, Ferrara plead guilty and got an even longer prison sentence because a witness testified that Ferrara had ordered a murder.
Years had passed when in 2003, that witness, Walter Jordan, came forward to say he had not been telling the truth about Ferrara. He said that Auerhahn knew.
"I testified and they knew I was lying. Jeff knew I was lying, because I told him so."Walter Jordan
Last year Jordan told me that he had testified that Ferrara had ordered the murder.
“Yes I testified, but I testified and they knew I was lying. Jeff knew I was lying, because I told him so” Jordan said. “All they wanted was Vinnie. It was Vinnie, Vinnie, Vinnie the whole time. If I didn't say it was Vinnie I was off to prison that was my ticket to freedom.”
In reaction, Judge Mark Wolf called hearings in 2003. The key moment came when a Boston cop testified that indeed the witness Jordan had admitted during preparation for trial that he wasn't telling the truth.
The cop said that back in 1993, he had told Auerhahn that the witness had recanted.
At the end of those hearings in 2003, Wolf accused Auerhahn of perpetrating a fraud upon the court, saying he had no choice but to release the two defendants, one of them Ferrara, a Mafia figure he considered dangerous.
Later, Wolf would be upheld by the First Circuit Court of Appeals, which called Auerhahn's behavior "outrageous," "egregious," "feckless" and "a grim picture of blatant misconduct."
The Department of Justice privately reprimanded Auerhahn.
To hold Auerhahn accountable, Wolf petitioned the local office of Bar Counsel to consider disciplinary action against Auerhahn. The Bar Counsel sought to have Auerhahn suspended for two years.
"We thought there was substantial evidence to support sanction in this case. But at least two of the judges disagreed with us so we have to respect their opinion."Nancy Kaufman, prosecutor, Office of Bar Counsel
On Thursday, the panel of three federal judges ruled that "the allegations of professional misconduct have not been proven by clear and convincing evidence."
Nancy Kaufman prosecuted the case for the Office of Bar Counsel.
“We thought there was substantial evidence to support sanction in this case,” Kaufman said. “But at least two of the judges disagreed with us so we have to respect their opinion.”
On behalf of Auerhahn, attorney Michael Ricciuti released a statement saying: “We’re very gratified by this result and the due process afforded to Mr. Auerhahn in the District of Massachusetts."
But across Boston, some attorneys found the panel's ruling absolutely stunning. The three judges had chosen to ignore the factual findings Wolf had made about Auerhahn in 2003. The judges did so even while recognizing that Wolf had observed the key witnesses firsthand and made thorough findings at the hearings.
Attorney Michael Natola, who was not part of the case, was surprised by the panel's findings.
"It seems curious to me that the three judge panel would not give at least some regard to Judge Wolf's ultimate conclusions," Natola said.
In the view of defense attorney Harvey Silverglate, the judges had turned somersaults to let Auerhahn off the hook, ignoring Wolf altogether.
“I think it's a rebuke to Judge Wolf and it's also a rebuke to all of those for years now have been engaged in the never-ending but seemingly futile battle to get the Department of Justice to turn over exculpatory evidence that can exonerate a defendant, especially an innocent one,” Silverglate said.
While the panel noted that their ruling in favor of Auerhahn does not mean they condone his actions, they did find that the Office of Bar Counsel failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence Auerhahn had violated the rules of professional conduct.
This program aired on September 16, 2011.