A longtime children’s advocate has been sanctioned by the State Bar for having a mother thrown in jail on trumped-up charges in order to prevent the woman from visiting her child, who had testified against the woman’s boyfriend in a sex-abuse trial.
Former Durham prosecutor Jan Paul, who is now a staff attorney for the General Assembly, didn’t contest the accusations against her, although she was represented at a bar hearing by a state-paid attorney at $250 an hour plus expenses, on a contract worth up to $10,000.
Paul had represented children in guardianship cases, and after becoming an assistant district attorney in Durham specialized in child-abuse prosecutions. In 2007, she brought a felony sex offense case against a man accused of assaulting his girlfriend’s daughter. The girl’s mother said she didn’t believe the girl had been abused.
At the 2009 trial, the judge dismissed the most serious charges against the man. During a break, Paul learned that the mother planned to visit her daughter that weekend; the girl’s father had custody, and the mother had visitation rights. Worried that the girl’s mother would harm her because she had testified against the man, Paul had the woman arrested as she left the courtroom on a Friday afternoon on charges of aiding and abetting sex offenses with a child.
A judge who learned what Paul had done that afternoon ordered the woman wouldn't have to secure her bond of several hundred thousand dollars, and on that Monday morning dismissed the charges. A State Bar hearing panel ruled the charges and arrest were unlawful, according to its order of discipline in the case.
The bar panel decided against disbarring Paul because her motive was honest, and she had dedicated her career to helping children and had a good reputation. But it felt that something more serious than a reprimand was in order. The bar panel in October suspended her law license for one year, but said the suspension wouldn’t take effect so long as she meets certain conditions.
Paul left the district attorney’s office in 2010. She now works on adoption issues in the legislative research division.
Update: Paul responded to an invitation to comment with this statement:
"I made a mistake of law in my effort to protect a child, and I have accepted responsibility for that error. Serving as a prosecutor was both challenging and rewarding, and I always tried to do what I believed was right. I sincerely hope that otherwise during my time as a prosecutor, I was fair and able to achieve justice."