“Justice Dept. office to punish prosecutors’ misconduct,” is the USA Today report by Brad Heath and Kevin McCoy.
The Justice Department created a new internal watchdog office on Tuesday to make sure federal prosecutors face swifter and more consistent punishment if investigators find that they committed misconduct.
The change follows a USA TODAY investigation that identified 201 criminal cases in which federal courts had found that Justice Department prosecutors had broken laws or ethics rules — violations that put innocent people in jail and set guilty people free. Although each of the cases was so serious that judges overturned convictions or rebuked the prosecutors for misconduct, USA TODAY found that the department often took years to investigate what went wrong, and that prosecutors faced little risk of being fired.
Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement Tuesday that while most federal prosecutors meet their ethical obligations, the current procedures for disciplining those found to commit misconduct “consume too much time, and risk inconsistent resolution.” He said the new unit “will help change that by providing consistent, fair, and timely resolution of these cases.”
The unit, called the Professional Misconduct Review Unit, will be responsible for disciplining career prosecutors when the department’s ethics investigators conclude that they engaged in intentional or reckless misconduct. Until now, those decisions had been made by the prosecutors’ supervisors, most often U.S. attorneys. The department has faced criticism for not doing enough to investigate and punish misconduct.
The new unit, which will make referrals to state bar association disciplinary authorities, will handle all findings of professional misconduct that occur after the unit is fully staffed, the memo said. “This is serious business. It’s a sign of a lack of faith in the behavior of U.S. attorneys around the country,” said Joseph diGenova, a former U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C. “If things have gotten so bad that the department finds willful misconduct and you haven’t been able to figure that out, you’re out of the ballgame. The message is, ‘Manage your office and impose discipline, or we will.’ ”
Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor who’s now a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, applauded the effort to segregate and speed the handling of the most serious misconduct cases. “Not all prosecutorial misconduct cases are alike,” she said.
Kathleen Ridolfi, director of the Northern California Innocence Project, said the Department of Justice should go further by adding independent legal experts to the disciplinary process.
“You still have this systemic problem of a mentality that prosecutors have to win,” said Joe Lawless, author of one of the first legal textbooks on prosecutorial misconduct. “You have to change that mentality.”
The announcement is the latest step Holder has taken over the past two years to address ethical lapses by the attorneys in charge of enforcing the nation’s laws. Those efforts came after the government’s failed corruption prosecution of former Alaska senator Ted Stevens, which ended in 2009 after the department conceded it had hidden evidence that could have undermined the case against him.
The New York Times reports, “New Justice Department Office Will Discipline Prosecutors,” by Charlie Savage.
The Justice Department announced on Tuesday the creation of a unit that will decide how to discipline career officials who commit prosecutorial misconduct, including whether to refer them to state bar associations for punishment. The unit will review cases whenever the department’s internal ethics watchdog, the Office of Professional Responsibility, finds that a prosecutor intentionally or recklessly violated the rules to which he is subject.
Savage also posted, “A Step to Deal With Prosecutors’ Misconduct,” to the Caucus blog at the Times.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. appointed Kevin Ohlson, who until recently was his chief of staff, to be chief of the new unit. In a statement, Mr. Holder said that the new process was necessary in order to speed up disciplinary review and to make sure such cases are treated the same way, no matter where in the department they arise.
“In the vast majority of cases, department attorneys meet their professional obligations but when allegations of misconduct occur, all parties deserve a fair and timely resolution,” Mr. Holder said. “This unit will be instrumental in achieving that goal and will also further the department’s mission of meeting its ethical obligations in every case.”
“Attorney General Creates Professional Misconduct Review Unit, Appoints Kevin Ohlson Chief,” is the DoJ news release announcing the office.
The Professional Misconduct Review Unit (PMRU) will be responsible for all disciplinary and state bar referral actions relating to OPR findings of professional misconduct against career attorneys.
“The current procedures for resolving these disciplinary matters consume too much time, and risk inconsistent resolutions, but this new Unit will help change that by providing consistent, fair, and timely resolution of these cases,” said Attorney General Holder. “In the vast majority of cases, Department attorneys meet their professional obligations but when allegations of misconduct occur, all parties deserve a fair and timely resolution. This Unit will be instrumental in achieving that goal and will also further the Department’s mission of meeting its ethical obligations in every case.”