Angela Corey, by all accounts, is no Atticus Finch. She is “one hell of a trial lawyer,” says a Florida defense attorney who has known her for three decades — but the woman who has risen to national prominence as the “tough as nails” state attorney who prosecuted George Zimmerman is known for scorching the earth. And some of her prosecutorial conduct has been, well, troubling at best.
Corey, a Jacksonville native, took a degree in marketing from Florida State University before pursuing her J.D. at the University of Florida. She became a Florida prosecutor in 1981 and tried everything from homicides to juvenile cases in the ensuing 26 years. In 2008, Corey was elected state attorney for Florida’s Fourth Judicial Circuit, taking over from Harry Shorstein — the five-term state attorney who had fired her from his office a year earlier, citing “long-term issues” regarding her supervisory performance.
When Corey came in, she cleaned house. Corey fired half of the office’s investigators, two-fifths of its victim advocates, a quarter of its 35 paralegals, and 48 other support staff — more than one-fifth of the office. Then she sent a letter to Florida’s senators demanding that they oppose Shorstein’s pending nomination as a U.S. attorney. “I told them he should not hold a position of authority in his community again, because of his penchant for using the grand jury for personal vendettas,” she wrote.
Corey knows about personal vendettas. They seem to be her specialty. When Ron Littlepage, a journalist for the Florida Times-Union, wrote a column criticizing her handling of the Christian Fernandez case — in which Corey chose to prosecute a twelve-year-old boy for first-degree murder, who wound up locked in solitary confinement in an adult jail prior to his court date — she “fired off a two-page, single-spaced letter on official state-attorney letterhead hinting at lawsuits for libel.”
And that was moderate. When Corey was appointed to handle the Zimmerman case, Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte, a former president of both the American Bar Association and Florida State University, criticized the decision: “I cannot imagine a worse choice for a prosecutor to serve in the Sanford case. There is nothing in Angela Corey’s background that suits her for the task, and she cannot command the respect of people who care about justice.” Corey responded by making a public-records request of the university for all e-mails, text messages, and phone messages in which D’Alemberte had mentioned Fernandez. Like Littlepage, D’Alemberte had earlier criticized Corey’s handling of the Fernandez case.
Not many people are willing to cross Corey. A Florida attorney I spoke with declined to go on record because of “concerns about retaliation” — that attorney has pending cases that will require Corey’s cooperation. The attorney mentioned colleagues who have refused to speak to the media for the same reason. And to think: D’Alemberte crossed Corey twice. He should get a medal.
But what these instances point to is something much more alarming than Corey’s less-than-warm relations with her peers.
In June 2012, Alan Dershowitz, a well-known defense attorney who has been a professor at Harvard Law School for nearly half a century, criticized Corey for her affidavit in the Zimmerman case. Making use of a quirk of Florida law that gives prosecutors, for any case except first-degree murder, the option of filing an affidavit with the judge instead of going to a grand jury, Corey filed an affidavit that, according to Dershowitz, “willfully and deliberately omitted” crucial exculpatory evidence: namely, that Trayvon Martin was beating George Zimmerman bloody at the time of the fatal gunshot. So Corey avoided a grand jury, where her case likely would not have held water, and then withheld evidence in her affidavit to the judge. “It was a perjurious affidavit,” Dershowitz tells me, and that comes with serious consequences: “Submitting a false affidavit is grounds for disbarment.”