On January 5, 2015, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) submitted a letter to Judge Maura McShane, the Presiding Judge of the 21st Judicial Circuit in Missouri, requesting that the court conduct an appropriate and thorough investigation of the grand jury proceedings that resulted in the non-indictment of former Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson. The letter was endorsed by LDF’s local partners the Mound City Bar Association and the Ferguson Legal Defense Committee. The transcripts from the grand jury revealed questionable prosecutorial tactics that compromised the integrity of the proceedings. As a result, LDF asked the court to restore public confidence in the St. Louis County justice system by conducting an investigation, and taking appropriate steps, including convening a new grand jury or appointing a special prosecutor pursuant to Missouri law.
On January 12th, 2015, LDF received a letter from Paul Fox, the Director of Judicial Administration at the 21st Circuit Court, in response to our request. Mr. Fox, citing the Missouri Code of Judicial Conduct and a desire to avoid compromising the court’s participation in potential litigation related to the grand jury proceedings, explained that “there will not be any comment or response by the Presiding Judge.” LDF has sought further clarification of Mr. Fox’s response.
Leading up to the submission of the January 5, 2015 letter request, LDF worked in concert with lawyers and legal experts from Missouri and across the country to read and analyze the grand jury transcripts. LDF will continue to support the efforts undertaken by local advocates to address concerns about the fairness and integrity of the grand jury process in this case. “Our review of these proceedings has raised grave legal concerns, including knowing presentation of false witness testimony, erroneous instructions on the law, and preferential treatment of Mr. Wilson by the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. These and other issues raise questions about the integrity of the process and the lawfulness of the prosecutors’ conduct. This process sets a bad precedent for our judicial system and diminishes the high standard that stewards of the law are supposed to uphold,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, LDF’s President and Director-Counsel.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is not a part of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) although LDF was founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. Since 1957, LDF has been a completely separate organization.