State Bar attorney: Innocence advocate violated woman’s privacy

— A prominent advocate for inmates wrongly convicted of crimes crossed an ethical line when she violated a woman’s privacy rights to help one of her clients, an attorney for the North Carolina State Bar said Monday.

Christine Mumma, director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence, faces a full week of hearings before a three-person disciplinary panel of the State Bar on whether she violated the rules of professional conduct in the case of Joseph Sledge.

Sledge served almost 40 years for a double murder he didn’t commit before he was exonerated and released from prison last January.

The State Bar’s complaint alleges that Mumma was seeking a DNA sample from the family of a possible suspect in the Sledge case when, in October 2013, she took a water bottle from the home of the suspect’s sister and later had it tested for DNA.

“This case is not about justice for Mr. Sledge,” Leanor Hodge, an attorney for the State Bar, said Monday. “This case is about the defendant’s misconduct.”

Mumma has said that she didn’t immediately realize the water bottle wasn’t hers, but Hodge said that “she was steps away from the home” and could have returned the bottle instead of keeping it and having DNA tests conducted.

“To suggest that the defendant didn’t know her conduct was wrong borders on the absurd,” Hodge said.

Mumma has noted that she was the one to inform both the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission and the local district attorney about her possession of the water bottle and the test – a move that ultimately resulted in the State Bar complaint against her.

The disciplinary panel will hear testimony for and against Mumma through the course of the week on three rules violations: that she used methods of evidence to violate a third party; that she acted in a way that was dishonest or deceitful; and that she acted in a way that violated the administration of justice.

Mumma’s work has gained the freedom of several wrongly convicted men, and one of them, Dwayne Dail, said at least six of her clients would be in the courtroom this week to support her. Dail served 18 years in prison for a 1987 rape before being released in 2007 when DNA testing proved his innocence.

The disciplinary panel is expected to decide on Mumma’s fate by Friday. If the State Bar finds Mumma violated its rules, it can issue discipline up to disbarment.

,Christine Mumma, director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence, faces a full week of hearings before a three-person panel who will decide whether she violated rules of professional conduct in the case of Joseph Sledge.

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