The State Bureau of Investigation is investigating whether Reid Brown, a former assistant district attorney in Waynesville, handled any cases improperly during his three years as a prosecutor.
The SBI would not elaborate on the scope or nature of the investigation.
“The SBI is investigating Reid Brown for actions taken while he was an assistant district attorney,” said Noelle Talley, an SBI spokesperson. The findings will be reviewed by the Attorney General’s Special Prosecutions Section, Talley said.
District Attorney Mike Bonfoey said he requested the state’s assistance to review a few cases there were questions over.
“I asked the Attorney General to take over the review of those cases for an independent review,” Bonfoey said. “At my request, the Attorney General, with the assistance of the SBI, is conducting an investigation into the matter.”
Bonfoey declined to comment further.
There is some indication the SBI has expanded the scope of the investigation beyond the three cases Bonfoey initially suggested for review.
Brown said last week the investigation came as a surprise and he was puzzled by what it could be about.
“I have not a clue,” Brown said. “I don’t know anything about it. I am confused and somewhat upset I have been left out of the loop.”
Brown said he will cooperate fully and is willing to take a polygraph and open all his files to investigators. Brown said he could not imagine what cases would have caused such a red flag.
“I know we had some disagreements but nothing that would rise to the level of that,” Brown said, citing his friendship with Bonfoey.
Brown said he had handled some cases where his son, David Brown, was the defense attorney, including dismissing tickets. Brown said Bonfoey had a policy against handling cases if a relative was involved, including being the lawyer for the accused. Technically though, there is nothing illegal or even improper about that, Brown said. Brown said he never fixed a ticket or charges against someone just because his son was representing them.
“It is not unethical for me to handle anybody’s case as long as I am fair. I think all the lawyers know I treat everybody the same,” Brown said. “But Mike (Bonfoey) had a policy because of the appearance that people might say something.”
Brown said Bonfoey had been upset about him handling those cases but Brown thought it had been resolved.
After learning about the investigation, Brown said he discovered that it initially centered over three traffic tickets and that it started after Bonfoey received a complaint.
Brown surmised someone in the legal community with a vendetta against his work as a tough prosecutor might be trying to stir up trouble for him. If a defense lawyer didn’t follow procedure or file the right paperwork, Brown said he would “get on them like a duck on a June bug.” He said that possibly created enemies. Brown said the investigation could have a chilling effect for him in legal circles.
For most of his decades-long legal career, Brown was a defense lawyer with a reputation for winning cases — or at least reducing the punishment — for those charged with crimes. In 2007, he gave up his lucrative private practice to work as an assistant prosecutor in the seven-county far western judicial district.
Bonfoey at the time lauded Brown’s experience.
“One of the difficulties finding someone with as much experience as Reid has is they have a good practice built up over the years that’s very lucrative for them,” Bonfoey said at the time. “It’s hard for them to give that up.”
In February, Brown retired from the district attorney’s office and went back into private practice as a criminal defense attorney with his son, David Brown. Reid Brown said he had always dreamed about having a law practice with his son.
The father-son duo started the firm Brown and Brown. David Brown, who grew up in Waynesville, came back three years ago after finishing law school and went into private practice with the firm about the same time his dad joined the prosecutor’s office.
Reid Brown tried several big cases, including being the lead prosecutor in the murder trial of Edwardo Wong who shot and killed a state trooper in Haywood County.
Brown’s stint under Bonfoey was actually his second stint in the district attorney’s office. He cut his teeth as a prosecutor in Haywood County his first three years out of law school in the mid-1970s.
David Brown’s fiancé was also an assistant district attorney for Bonfoey, but the engagement was called off. Reid Brown overlapped only briefly in the office with his son’s fiancé.