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Jayson Williams' Prosecutors Under Racial Scrutiny‎

The next few days may feel like alumni weekfor the Hunterdon County Prosecutor's Office, minus the good vibesand fond reminiscences.

In the latest twist in the long-running manslaughter caseagainst former NBA star Jayson Williams, current and formeremployees, starting with county prosecutor J. Patrick Barnes, areexpected to be grilled about racial bias in the investigation ofthe killing of hired driver Costas "Gus" Christofi at Williams'central New Jersey mansion in 2002.

Among those scheduled to testify are: Steven Lember, who triedWilliams in 2004 and later resigned from the prosecutor's office;Katharine Errickson, who was to have headed the prosecution atWilliams' upcoming retrial for reckless manslaughter but was firedin early 2008; and William Hunt, the former investigator whose useof a racial slur to describe Williams, who is black, precipitatedthe chain of events that led to this week's hearings.

Williams, who played nine seasons in the NBA with the

Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Nets, was acquitted of aggravatedmanslaughter in 2004 but convicted on four counts of covering upthe crime. Several witnesses testified that after Williams handleda shotgun that fired and hit Christofi in the chest, he told themto lie to police and tampered with evidence.

The jury deadlocked on a reckless manslaughter count, and aretrial is tentatively scheduled for January. Williams has beenfree on bail since the shooting.

Defense attorneys will try to use this week's hearings to placethe entire case against Williams into question, including theconvictions and retrial. They have leveled charges of prosecutorialmisconduct at Lember for, among other things, waiting until morethan three years after the trial to disclose the slur incident.

Prosecutors have argued that the slur or any alleged bias had noeffect on the convictions since the jury reached its verdicts onthe basis of testimony by witnesses to the shooting.

Neither Barnes nor Lember, who is in private practice, returnedphone messages seeking comment Monday. Williams and attorneysinvolved in the case are prohibited from speaking to the mediaunder a gag order imposed by state Superior Court Judge EdwardColeman.

At the very least, the hearings will focus more scrutiny on aprosecutor's office that already faces three lawsuits by currentand former employees - including Errickson - including one thatalleges a hostile work environment and "racially prejudicialatmosphere."

The sight of prosecutors being questioned on the witness standby defense attorneys is unusual, said Donald Robinson, formerpresident of the Association of the Federal Bar of New Jersey.

"Within my experience, when there are charges of prosecutorialmisconduct, there's an internal investigation and it usually endsthere," Robinson said. "But to have an open court hearing on whata prosecutor did or didn't do is a healthy thing because theyshould have to defend themselves when they're accused."

New Jersey's Supreme Court in February ordered prosecutors toturn over all information regarding Hunt's slur, including who waspresent when it was made, but defense attorneys said most employeesof the prosecutor's office refused their requests to beinterviewed.

Coleman ruled last month that the defense could have subpoenapower to compel them to testify.

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