A former Justice Department official told Main Justice that the attorney behind the controversial New Black Panther Party voter intimidation case was hired in the Civil Rights Division Voting Section under a process the DOJ Inspector General later determined was improperly influenced by politics.
Joseph Rich, the former chief of the Civil Rights Division’s Voting Section and a 36-year employee of the Department of Justice, said that shortly before he left the DOJ in 2005 he received a call from Bradley Schlozman, then a Deputy Assistant Attorney General who later became acting Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division.
Rich was later one of several employees who were quoted in a Justice Department Inspector General’s report, which concluded the hiring process used by Schlozman was improperly politicized. Rich, a liberal-leaning critic of the Civil Rights Division management during the George W. Bush administration, also wrote about his experiences for The Los Angeles Times.
Rich said Schlozman asked him to attend an interview with J. Christian Adams, a solo practitioner from Alexandria, Va., who had worked for the Secretary of State in South Carolina. Adams had also volunteered for the Republican National Lawyers Association, a GOP-funded group that sought to draw attention to voting fraud.
Adams did not have an extensive background in civil rights, Rich said, but may have had limited voting rights experience from his time in South Carolina. “He is exhibit A of the type of people hired by Schlozman,” Rich said.
Rich said he sat in on the interview, but Schlozman asked most of the questions. There was no discussion of Adams’ political background at the meeting, according to Rich. Adams was offered the position shortly thereafter, and Rich said he doesn’t believe anyone else was interviewed for the job.
“I was invited to the interview but was never asked for a recommendation,” Rich said.”This was an example of the way things were being done. There’s no evidence that this was a normal hiring process.” As a supervisor, Rich said, he normally would have been involved in hiring decisions.
Contacted by Main Justice, Adams did not dispute Rich’s account, but said that during the interview he discussed his background representing indigent clients.
The Inspector General’s report doesn’t name Adams, but said that Schlozman hired 99 attorneys, 63 of whom had conservative or Republican affiliations and only 2 of whom had liberal affiliations.
Adams was one of the first hires in the Voting Section in years, as hiring was virtually at a standstill for several years during the Bush administration, Rich said. Rich left the Justice Department before Adams started his job.
The Obama administration’s transition team compiled a report on the division, which found that 236 civil rights lawyers left the division from 2003 to 2007. Many were made to feel unwelcome and left, some former Civil Rights Division attorneys have said. Others took an unusual buyout offer that critics have said was extended to encourage perceived liberals to leave the division.
“It is evident that the [Voting] Section, at times at the behest of DOJ’s highest ranking officials, prioritized a voter fraud prevention and prosecution agenda designed to suppress minority voter turnout; and decisions on some [Voting Rights Act] Section 5 submissions were crafted to serve partisan ends,” the transition report said.
Adams quit his job with the Justice Department earlier this year, citing the DOJ’s handling of a November 2008 incident at a Philadelphia polling place and its refusal to allow him to testify before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights about it. Now a free agent, Adams is slated to appear on Tuesday before the commission to discuss the case.
Two members of the anti-white fringe group stood outside the majority-black polling place in military-style garb, one of them holding a night stick.
Adams helped compile a civil voter intimidation lawsuit against the men, based on a rarely used section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. But the Obama DOJ later dismissed the case against all but one defendant, citing a lack of a pattern of intimidation, the fact that one of the Black Panthers was a registered Democratic poll watcher and that lack of evidence that the leadership of the organization condoned the one New Black Panthers behavior. The DOJ obtained an injunction against the Black Panther who carried the nightstick.
Adams has since become a vocal critic of the decision to dismiss most of the case, saying in a recent two-part interview on Fox News that racial and political motivations were at play.