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General News    H2'ed 7/10/09

Trapped in the Justice Department's "Roach Motel"

By       (Page 1 of 1 pages)   2 comments
Message Roger Shuler
Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer
Tamarah Grimes went to her employer and pointed out examples of waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement.

Was Grimes rewarded with a raise, a promotion? Nope. She received a pink slip and designation as a "risk to operational security."

Welcome to life in the U.S. Department of Justice. Why is the DOJ so dysfunctional? That question probably has many answers. But Scott Horton, legal-affairs contributor for Harper's magazine, points an accusing finger at the department's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). He calls it an "embarrassing cesspool."

The ABA Journal goes even further in a recent piece, calling OPR the "Roach Motel"--the place where "cases check in, but they don't check out."

In theory, OPR is the Justice Department's "ethics cop," the office that is supposed to investigate messes like the one Grimes exposed at the Middle District of Alabama. OPR is supposed to crack down on wayward U.S. attorneys like Leura Canary in Montgomery, Alabama. But, as Grimes' termination illustrates, that's not how it works in real life.

To borrow a phrase from pop psychology, OPR has become a glorified enabler. Writes Horton:

In fact, OPR seems to have a double function. First, by engaging in infantile games of turf warfare, it effectively blocks the DOJ's Inspector General from doing his job. Second, when purporting to conduct investigations of wrongdoing, it proceeds at a glacial place, rarely succeeds in uncovering any facts, and, even when it does, usually issues a soft tut-tut, almost never administering any serious disciplinary measures. The DOJ consistently holds its own lawyers to a far lower standard than it holds others. In effect, OPR has become a whitewash organ for DOJ that specializes in whistleblower intimidation and shoring up U.S. attorneys engaged in highly abusive, and sometimes criminal, practices.

That's tough stuff. And Horton doesn't stop there. He says things have gotten so bad at OPR that federal judges are increasingly taking matters into their own hands, punishing prosecutors themselves. And more judges are telling new attorney general Eric Holder that they want the cluelessness at OPR to cease.

The Grimes case indicates Holder has a lot of work to do in that regard. One problem, Horton reports, is that H. Marshall Jarret keeps showing up in the darnedest places.

Jarret was head of OPR when it conducted "investigations" into apparent misconduct in Alabama, resulting in little or no action. After complaints poured in about Jarret's performance at OPR, he was named director of the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys.

The theory behind this move? Apparently it was: "Let's take the incompetent guy and promote him." The Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys is the outfit that informed Grimes of her termination. Reports Horton:

The firing of a whistleblower for reasons obviously and directly connected to her highly credible disclosure of wrongdoing . . . is extremely troubling, and Jarrett's involvement adds to the appearance of a conscious cover-up implemented in violation of the No Fear Act. Jarrett also headed OPR investigations into a series of allegations of prosecutorial misconduct involving Leura Canary and Alice Martin, all of which appear to have resulted in no action. I say "investigations," but after many inquiries, I find no evidence that any investigation ever occurred, in any of these cases."

Is the Obama administration truly interested in restoring America's broken justice system? The evidence, so far, suggests that Holder & Co. are in no hurry to do much of anything. But if they ever do get serious, Horton has suggestion on where they can start the scouring process:

OPR remains the organ of phantom investigations. The roaches go in, but nothing ever comes out.

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I live in Birmingham, Alabama, and work in higher education. I became interested in justice-related issues after experiencing gross judicial corruption in Alabama state courts. This corruption has a strong political component. The corrupt judges are (more...)
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