Out of the limelight and away from the hustle and bustle of today's media frenzy over the firings of a score of US Attorneys, many defendants, opposing counsel, members of the press, targets of federal investigations and others who have dealt with the federal courts, say there is a major problem, and they accuse the Bush Administration of not dealing with it. And, before you get that big grin on your face, the Clinton Administration's stable of US Attorneys didn't come off lily white, either.
In the last decade, federal prosecutors have not only been accused of prosecutorial bias, many have also been accused of scores of crimes ranging from improperly intervening in local bank fraud cases on behalf of House Republicans, to out right criminal activities. (Kansas City Star, March 20, 2007) Critics of the Justice Department say there are a lot of problems in the ranks of the federal prosecutors and the nation's leaders either haven't dealt with the issue, or are manipulating the system for political gain. Some critics are so incensed that they have gone so far as to accuse the Administration of completely ignoring the alleged corruption within the ranks of the US Attorney's staff and choosing to pander to political motives instead.
As noted by the Star, "The scandal in Washington reflects the reality about US Attorneys: they're political appointees, but once in office they're supposed to conduct independent investigations into wrongdoing." But, not only has that not been the case in too many cases, but members of the federal prosecutor's staff have also allegedly walked on the dark side and have "run afoul of the law themselves. Former US Attorney Sam Currin, who worked out of Raleigh, was a protege of former Sen. Jesse Helms and the former Chairman of the state Republican Party. He was indicted last year on charges of tax-fraud conspiracy, and pleaded guilty to three charges in November". (Star)
Former US Attorney Paul Perez, an ex-federal prosecutor who handled federal prosecutions in a 34 county metro area anchored by Jacksonville, Florida, inherited an office that was "tainted by accusations of prosecutorial misconduct, allegations that were not repeated during his watch." (Jacksonville Times-Union). After surviving in the position since 2002, Perez went to work as corporate counsel for an insurance company, at a salary a great deal more generous than his Justice Department paycheck. (Times-Union)
A citizen's advocacy group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sent a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales asking for "the immediate appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate potential criminal violations related to the recent dismissals of eight US Attorneys." (Press Release)
CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said, "Given the murky nature of this situation and the unresolved questions of what top level Justice officials knew, when they knew it and whether they deliberately withheld information from Congress, Attorney General Gonzales should immediately appoint a Special Prosecutor." (Press Release)
Federal law provides for reporting of prosecutorial misconduct on the part of federal prosecutors. A manual of regulations for US Attorneys says:
Department employees shall report to their US Attorney or Assistant Attorney General, or
other appropriate supervisor, any evidence or non-frivolous allegation of misconduct that may be in violation of any law, rule, regulation, order, or applicable professional standard. (United States Attorney's Manual)
Many conservatives, such as Quin Hillyer, a columnist for The American Spectator, say the "Left" is way out of line on this issue. Hillyer says, "Let's all acknowledge that the organized political left is way out of line in suggesting that the latest Republican "scandal" has criminal ramifications -- and move on. The reality is that the left is taking advantage not of formal malfeasance but of sheer incompetence and political tone-deafness on the right." (Bumbling Into a "Scandal", Published 3/16/2007)
However, the screams from the nation's heartland disagree. Many are screaming "malfeasance" at the top of their lungs, but nobody is listening to them. Not yet.
Take, for instance, the case of an Eastern Indiana farmer who is continuing a battle with the federal government over a farm foreclosure. The farmer claims a US Attorney called and misrepresented herself as a private attorney who was interested in representing the farmer in court. This prosecutor reportedly interviewed the farmer extensively, gleaning defense information which the farmer says would never have been revealed had the Justice Department Prosecutor made her identity known at the outset. Members of the farm community that I have talked to are so outraged that they are trying to get up the nerve to go to the state bar disciplinary judges over the issue. From Indiana, to Massachusetts, to California, the stench of corruption is growing.
From Boston, via, the Phoenix:
Something is rotten in Beantown - and the stench is emanating from the local branch of the Department of Justice (DOJ). An assistant US attorney, who hid evidence and then lied about it, has been put on the prosecution teams in - ready for this? - the corruption and perjury trials of several local officials. As the number of federal judges who question this guy's trustworthiness grows, it seems, the more responsibility the DOJ hands him to prosecute corruption cases.
Many are losing their faith in the system, after coming up against the awesome, and often abused power of the federal and other court systems. The following information gleaned from a twenty year old article from the St. Petersburg Times illustrates the problem very well. Hence, for those who think the courts are unbiased, untainted by corruption, politics and human frailty–think again.
Two decades ago, an attorney who represented a Florida State Attorney in an alleged corruption case was so incensed at the behavior of the federal prosecutor, that he said he would try to have US Attorney Robert W. Merkle removed from his job. According to a newspaper report that is over 20 years old, Defense Attorney Barry Cohen said, "I want him the hell out of office."