HUMOR

‘I am Dropping the Charges Against Myself’ and Other Adventures
in Legal Weirdness

Written by John G. Browning

 

As the days of the Trump administration wane and as law professors and constitutional scholars debate such questions as “Can a president pardon himself?” I am reminded of the questions I would regularly get from my law students. Usually, these inquiries could be grouped under the heading of “Can a lawyer really do that?” and they would often involve some form of outrageous behavior. One such question was whether a prosecutor facing criminal charges could drop them in his or her official capacity. That’s not likely to happen, but that doesn’t mean people won’t
try . . .



Take Lisa Landon, of Littleton, New Hampshire, for example. According to the New Hampshire Union Leader, the 33-year-old woman found a novel way to get rid of the drug possession and stalking charges she was facing in late 2019: She just allegedly impersonated a county prosecutor and “dropped” the charges against herself. Supposedly, Landon used the New Hampshire court system’s electronic filing system to submit fake nolle prosequi (the formal notice of charges being dropped), posing as assistant county prosecutor Patrice Casian. The false documents were submitted in three different court cases. Additionally, Landon allegedly impersonated a judge, retired Superior Court Judge Gillian L. Abramson, to submit a falsified order waiving filing fees in a civil case that Landon had brought against Hillsborough County, along with a fraudulent order filed on behalf of a relative to halt guardianship proceedings involving Landon’s child.



How did Landon’s brief but fake “career” as a prosecutor and judge allegedly come to light? It seems that a state forensic examiner who had been scheduled to perform a competency evaluation on Landon went online, saw a notice in her court file that the charges had been “dropped,” and wanted to know if the competency exam should still go forward. Once Landon’s online impersonations were revealed, she soon found herself facing new charges of impersonation and falsifying physical evidence. While they’re at it, authorities might want to reconsider the whole “access to a computer” thing.



Of course, Landon may have gotten the idea for the old “pose as the prosecutor” trick from Christian Mosco, of Volusia County, Florida. In January 2020, someone in that county’s clerk’s office noticed that an interesting development had occurred in the case of Mosco, who had been charged with burglary and attempted extortion of a local car dealership. The clerk noticed that an “announcement of no information” had been filed in the 47-year-old Mosco’s case, a filing that struck her as odd since prosecutors (real ones, that is) don’t file such pleadings when someone’s already been charged. A correct document—as Landon and bona fide prosecutors can attest—would have been a nolle prosequi, dropping the charges. Suspicious, the clerk alerted authorities, who soon discovered that Mosco had used the names and Florida Bar numbers of two genuine prosecutors, Danielle Fields and Andrew Urbanak. Mosco fraudulently created a user account with Urbanak’s information, used Fields’ data on the “no information” pleading, and then digitally filed the document through the Florida Courts e-filing portal.



Once the fraud was exposed, Florida authorities swiftly moved to adjust their e-filing system to prevent any repeats of the incident. Mosco is now facing new felony charges including two counts of falsely impersonating a prosecutor, unauthorized practice of law, forgery, and fraudulent use of identification. Depending on what kind of computer privileges Volusia County jail inmates get, we may have seen the last of Mosco’s days as a “lawyer.”



If fraudulently posing as a prosecutor or judge online to “dismiss” a pesky case isn’t your cup of tea, you could consider the approach taken by 55-year-old Canadian businessman Bruce McConville. McConville (who actually ran for mayor of Ottawa in 2018) was in a January 2020 hearing over claims that he had failed to pay spousal and child support stemming from a divorce settlement. When asked by Justice Kevin Phillips why he hadn’t paid, McConville said he burned the money (roughly one million Canadian dollars).



Not “burned through it”—burned it, literally. McConville claimed he made 25 separate withdrawals from six different bank accounts and then burned the cash in two bonfires. While he claimed to have receipts documenting the withdrawals, McConville admitted he had no record of the bonfires or any witnesses to his “blaze of glory.” He also acknowledged that the money came from the sale of various properties and assets—a direct violation of a court order. Justice Phillips was not amused, telling McConville, “I don’t believe you. I don’t trust you. I don’t think you’re honest.” He sentenced McConville to 30 days in jail for violating court orders and ordered him to pay $2,000 a day to his ex-wife for every day he failed to disclose his finances to the court.



So, if you’re contemplating making some nagging legal problems disappear by either impersonating a prosecutor to “drop” your own charges, or crying poor because all your money went up in smoke, you might want to reconsider.TBJ

 

Leah
TeagueJOHN G. BROWNING
is a former justice of the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas. He is the immediate past chair of the State Bar of Texas Computer & Technology Section. The author of four books and numerous articles on social media and the law, Browning is a nationally recognized thought leader in technology and the law.

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