Defense lawyers in California are reviewing criminal cases in which Tara Reade, the former Senate aide who has accused Joe Biden of sexual assault, served as an expert witness on domestic violence, concerned that she misrepresented her educational credentials in court.
Then known as Alexandra McCabe, Reade testified as a government witness in Monterey County courts for nearly a decade, describing herself as an expert in the dynamics of domestic violence who had counseled hundreds of victims.
But lawyers who had faced off against her in court began raising questions about the legitimacy of her testimony, and the verdicts that followed, after news reports this week that Antioch University had disputed her claim of receiving a bachelor’s degree from its Seattle campus.
The public defender’s office in Monterey County has begun scrutinizing cases involving Reade and compiling a list of clients who may have been affected by her testimony, according to Jeremy Dzubay, an assistant public defender in the office.
Roland Soltesz, a criminal defense lawyer, says he believes Reade’s testimony made a significant difference in the outcome of the 2018 trial of his client Victoria Ramirez. Both Ramirez and her co-defendant, Jennifer Vasquez, received life sentences for attempted murder, arson and armed robbery.
“People have been convicted based upon this, and that’s wrong,” said Soltesz, adding that he “could care less about the politics of this whole thing.”
Reade has accused Biden of assaulting her in the Senate complex in 1993, placing his hand under her dress and penetrating her with his fingers. Biden flatly denies her accusation.
Questions about Reade’s education background were first reported by CNN.
Reade told The New York Times that she had obtained her degree through a “protected program” for victims of spousal abuse, which, court records show, she suffered at the hands of her ex-husband in the mid-1990s. That history, she said, caused her to change her name, leading to confusion about her status at the school. She later received a law degree from Seattle University.
But an Antioch spokeswoman, Karen Hamilton, told The New York Times that while Reade had attended classes, she was certain Reade had not received a degree.
In her testimony in the 2018 trial, Reade was questioned about her degree by Soltesz. She testified that she received a liberal arts degree, as was stated on her résumé provided by the district attorney’s office. “The focus was political science,” she said, according to a trial transcript.
Reade also told the court that she was currently a substitute teacher but had worked in domestic violence prevention for more than two decades and testified in more than 20 cases. Her career began, she said, in Biden’s office.
“I was a legislative assistant,” she said, according to the testimony. “He worked on the Violence Against Women Act, the federal act.”
Staff lists published in 1993 show Reade listed as a staff assistant, a different position from the legislative assistant job she cited in her testimony. Both titles are common in congressional offices, with legislative assistant indicating a slightly more senior post that involves working on policy. In multiple interviews, Reade described her duties as managing the interns, never mentioning any direct work on the Violence Against Women Act.
In an interview, Soltesz described Reade as “well spoken” and “a good witness on the stand,” and said he was impressed by her experience with Biden.
But both Soltesz and Scott Erdbacher, the lawyer for Vasquez, raised objections to Reade’s testimony, according to the transcript, saying they were skeptical that her work experience qualified her as an expert. The judge overruled them.
Now, Soltesz says he is exploring whether he can reopen his case. On Wednesday evening, he emailed a network of more than 100 public defenders, alerting them to questions about Reade’s background and credibility.
Monique S. Hill, a lawyer in another domestic violence case in which Reade served as an expert witness, said she also saw grounds to challenge the conviction.
“Had I had the information that I have now, this case, in my mind, would have gone differently,” said Hill, who served as a public defender.
The Monterey County chief assistant district attorney, Berkley Brannon, said that if Reade had misrepresented her academic credentials, the office would alert all defense lawyers involved in cases that featured her as an expert.
“That would absolutely be of concern to us, and it’s something that the defense attorneys would need to know about,” he said. “We don’t want people that we call lying about anything.”
He said the office would not make any move to contact defense lawyers until it was satisfied that she indeed had not obtained her bachelor’s degree. And, speaking hypothetically, he said that the extent to which a false academic claim would affect the cases she participated in would depend on how material her testimony was to the outcome.
The 6th District Appellate Program, a state-funded public interest law firm that represents low-income clients in the region, is also reviewing all the cases involving Reade.
Reade maintains that she has an undergraduate degree, saying the school has no record of her graduating because of special arrangements put in place to protect her from her ex-husband. She sent The Times a screenshot of a transcript showing her with 35 course credits, her department as “BA Completion” and nothing listed under “date conferred” or “degree conferred.” According to the photo, she entered school on Oct. 2, 2000.
Credits from her earlier studies at Pasadena City College were linked to her old Social Security number and name — the same one she now uses — making her worried that her ex-husband could find her and her daughter, she says. To protect her identity as a survivor of domestic abuse, Reade says, she received her degree through the private assistance of the school’s then-president, Tullisse Murdock. She says she never received a diploma or requested one since she was “fast-tracked” to law school.
“The president took it from the registrar and did it herself for complete confidentiality,” she said in an interview.
But Hamilton, the Antioch spokeswoman, told The Times that it had spoken with Murdock, and that there was no such special arrangement with Reade. It takes 180 credits to graduate, and students earn up to a maximum of 45 for life experience or prior studies, according to the school’s website.
Seattle University School of Law confirmed that Reade graduated with a J.D. degree in 2004. The school only considers accepting students with bachelor’s degrees, according to its website. But, citing federal privacy standards, it would not share what degree Reade presented with her initial application.
Lying in court is generally considered to be a crime, though one that can be hard to prosecute. To be considered perjury, usually the false statement has to be a knowing lie.
Even if Reade was not found to have perjured herself, exaggerating qualifications as an expert witness could be grounds for reversal of a verdict.
“An expert can only testify in certain circumstances,” said Mark J. Reichel, a criminal defense lawyer based in Sacramento who formerly worked as a federal public defender. “One of them is that they have expertise above the regular person. The jury is entitled to hear your qualifications.”