Last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill will be of paramount importance for a long time to come, Assistant Attorney General Ignacia Moreno said on Thursday in outlining the 2011 priorities for the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, which she heads.
Speaking to the District of Columbia Bar Association at the law firm Hunton & Williams in downtown Washington, she laid out a road map of the division’s goals and spoke at length about the enforcement of environmental laws. Reviewing the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the DOJ’s ongoing civil and criminal investigations, she noted that the DOJ filed a lawsuit last month against nine defendants, including BP and Transocean, in connection with the spill.
“Deepwater Horizon has become the Division’s top priority and will remain so for the foreseeable future,” Moreno said.
She was tight-lipped some data about the number of civil and criminal lawyers contributing to the investigations. But she did say she was working with Assistant Attorney General Tony West of the Civil Division and the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, Jim Letten, and other U.S. Attorneys in the Gulf region, plus other federal agencies conducting investigations. She also said depositions would begin Jan. 18.
Acknowledging that estimates about the extent of the spill have varied, she said experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other agencies are still trying to determine just how much oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico.
Her division also works closely with the Environmental Protection Agency, and she noted that the majority of the division’s civil enforcement cases are referred by the EPA. She said upholding the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act remain important priorities, along with maintaining hazardous-waste cleanups. And she said it was important that corporate America become increasingly involved in the conversation about those efforts.
Moreno said her division will continue to place a high priority on enforcing greenhouse gas regulations, protecting natural resources and maintaining national security. The division’s last main priority is addressing the needs of Native Americans, including Alaskans, working closely with client agencies and tribal leaders resolving tribal trust litigations.
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Two longtime employees in the Environment and Natural Resources Division are retiring this week.
Virginia Butler, Chief for the Land Acquisition Section, who has served in the Justice Department for 32 years, retires on Friday. Pauline “Polly” Milius, Chief for the Law and Policy Section, who has been with the division for 30 years, will also leave the same day.
Butler spent her entire career with the department in the Land Acquisition Section and has spent equal time as a trial attorney, assistant section chief and section chief, spokesman Andrew Ames said.
During her time at the department, Butler worked on cases involving the acquisition of land for the Big Cyprus National Preserve, a National Park Service site in Florida. She also oversaw parts of the Strategic Border Initiative, involving land acquisitions along both the northern and southern borders.
Butler expects to spend her retirement golfing and refining her cooking and gardening skills, Ames said.
Milius, whose retirement party was held at the Robert F. Kennedy Justice Department Building on Thursday, has been chief of the Law and Policy Section since 1993. Before that, she was a trial attorney in the now-defunct General Litigation Section, where she litigated cases involving the National Environmental Policy Act, mining and mineral leasing statutes, and forest planning and land management statutes.
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Ignacia S. Moreno, who was formally installed Friday as Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division, announced her top leadership team.
From the Justice Department news release:
Natalia Sorgente, Chief of Staff and Counsel—Sorgente returns to ENRD to serve as counsel and chief of staff after a brief departure from the division. Sorgente served in the Environmental Defense Section as a trial attorney where she defended the United States’ environmental regulations, determinations and past practices in federal district and appellate courts. She has broad environmental law experience, including representing the United States in cases brought under all the major pollution control statutes. In her five years with the division, she received multiple awards in recognition of her outstanding work. Preceding her return to ENRD, she was a senior legal fellow at Alliance for Justice working with the Judicial Selection Project. After clerking for U.S. Judge Norma L. Shapiro, she began her career at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison in New York litigating high-profile civil and criminal matters. Sorgente holds degrees from New York University School of Law and Harvard College with honors.
Robert Dreher, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General— As a seasoned environmental lawyer, Dreher has extensive experience in conservation policy, environmental law and natural resources management. He has represented environmental organizations, federal agencies, tribes and businesses in a variety of environmental matters. Dreher previously served as senior vice president for Climate Change and Conservation Law and General Counsel of Defenders of Wildlife. Prior to this, he served as Deputy Executive Director of the Georgetown Environmental Law & Policy Institute at Georgetown University Law Center, and as deputy general counsel of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Earlier in his career, he was a staff and co-managing attorney of the Washington, D.C. office of the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund (now Earthjustice). Representing tribes, government agencies, businesses and environmental groups in solo private practice, he served as counsel to the law firm Troutman Sanders LLC and as an associate at the Boston firm Hill & Barlow. He has taught federal natural resources law at The George Washington University Law School and at Georgetown University Law Center. Dreher received his J.D. from Yale Law School, a Masters in American Civilization from Brown University, and his undergraduate degree from Harvard College.
Dreher will oversee the Natural Resources and Wildlife and Marine Resources sections.
John Cruden, Deputy Assistant Attorney General—Cruden has served as a career Deputy Assistant Attorney General for ENRD since 1995. Prior to his role as deputy, he served as chief of the division’s environmental enforcement section and as special counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division. Cruden has extensive personal experience litigating complex environmental cases and has served as Acting Assistant Attorney General on multiple occasions. Before attending law school, he served in airborne, ranger and special forces units in Germany and Vietnam. After receiving his law degree, he clerked for the California Supreme Court and then attended the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Graduate Course where he was named the outstanding graduate. Subsequent military assignments included criminal prosecutor in Germany; chief of litigation branch, Europe; general counsel, Defense Nuclear Agency; and chief of administrative and civil law, Judge Advocate General’s School. His last assignment in the Pentagon was chief legislative counsel for the Army. Cruden is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, University of Santa Clara summa cum laude and University of Virginia with honors.
Cruden will oversee the Environmental Enforcement and Environmental Crimes sections.
Ethan G. Shenkman, Deputy Assistant Attorney General—Shenkman returns to the Justice Department where he had previously served for nine years. Most recently, Shenkman was a partner at the WilmerHale law firm, which he joined in 2004. He was a member of the Government and Regulatory Litigation Practice Group and worked closely with the Appellate and International Arbitration Practice Groups. His practice focused on a wide range of complex litigation, including international disputes, investment treaty arbitration, appellate advocacy, environmental law and Indian law. He began with the Justice Department as a Bristow Fellow in the Office of the Solicitor General in 1995. He then joined the ENRD Appellate Section through the Attorney General’s Honor Graduate program and served as counsel to then-Assistant Attorney General Lois Schiffer. From 2001 to 2004 he was a member of ENRD’s Law and Policy Section. Prior to joining the Justice Department, he clerked for U.S. Judge Paul V. Niemeyer in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Ethan earned his J.D. from the University of Virginia, School of Law, where he was Order of the Coif and Editor-in-Chief of the Virginia Law Review, and his B.A. from Yale University, summa cum laude.
Shenkman will oversee the Appellate and Indian Resources sections.
Patrice Simms, Deputy Assistant Attorney General— Simms joins ENRD as an accomplished environmental attorney most recently serving on the law faculty at Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C. Prior to this, Mr. Simms served as a government attorney and as an environmental advocate in many high-profile environmental cases, and other matters involving important legal, technical and policy issues. His experience includes more than five years as a staff attorney in EPA’s Office of General Counsel, and stints as a legal counsel to the EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board and as a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. His career has focused on issues regarding the implementation and enforcement of the Clean Air Act and issues related to clean water, solid waste, public health, climate change and environmental justice. Mr. Simms has received many professional awards, including the EPA Office of General Counsel Award for Excellence. In 2009, he was elected to serve on the Steering Committee for the D.C. Bar’s Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Section. Mr. Simms is a graduate of Howard University School of Law.
Simms will oversee the Land Acquisition and Environmental Defense Sections.
Crystal Brown, Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General— Brown comes to ENRD after recently serving at the White House as deputy associate counsel for presidential personnel. Prior to this, she served as an associate at the law firm of Bryan Cave LLP where her practice focused on a range of commercial litigation and white collar defense and investigation matters. Earlier in her career, she served as a judicial law clerk to U.S. Judge Clifford Scott Green in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. In 2008, Brown was inducted into Temple University’s Gallery of Success as an alumna of the Beasley School of Law. She received her J.D. from Temple University Beasley School of Law, where she was symposium editor of its Political and Civil Rights Law Review. Brown received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Duke University.
Jeffrey Prieto, Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General— For ten years, Mr. Prieto has served as a trial attorney with ENRD’s Environmental Enforcement Section, prosecuting civil actions on behalf of federal agencies under all major federal environmental laws. He has served as co-counsel on major Clean Air Act civil enforcement cases including coal-fired power plant litigation. He also has served as lead attorney of a litigation team in Superfund enforcement cases, representing multiple federal agencies. Prieto’s positions have included attorney-advisor for the Environmental Protection Agency, White House Fellow and environmental planner. Mr. Prieto received his J.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles and a Master’s of Public Affairs/Urban and Regional Planning from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.
Paulo Palugod, Special Assistant to the Assistant Attorney General—Palugod joins the department from American University, Washington College of Law, where he will receive his J.D. in May. He received a B.A. in Economics from Bucknell University, cum laude.
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The new head of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division pledged that the nation’s top polluters will pay for the damage they caused to the environment and said she would work with other countries to protect air and water quality.
Ignacia S. Moreno, who has been on the job since November, was formally installed during a ceremony in the Great Hall of the Justice Department’s Robert F. Kennedy building on Friday afternoon.
Attorney General Eric Holder and Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli were on hand for the ceremony.
Perrelli praised Moreno’s work thus far and said she had a deep commitment to environmental law and a broad understanding of the entirety of the division’s work.
Holder, who was given a standing ovation when introduced by Perrelli, thanked the audience, joking that he should “perhaps should stop here” and that the support was “especially nice today” - an allusion to news reports earlier Friday that the White House might overrule the Justice Department’s decision to try alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in civilian courts.
Moreno, said Holder, “has a deep understanding of regional concerns, she also brings a global perspective to addressing environmental challenges.”
“Under her leadership, I know our Environment and Natural Resources Division will redouble its efforts to ensure that our most vulnerable communities are not disproportionately burdened by environmental and health hazards, and that these communities will be encouraged to participate in making local environmental decisions,” he said.
U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo M. Urbina was on hand to administer Moreno’s oath of office and praised Moreno’s past work, calling the swearing in a proud day for the Hispanic community.
In her speech, Moreno recalled coming to the U.S. from Colombia, where she was born and lived until age six, and landing at JFK airport in New York in the middle of a major snowstorm. “I remember, vividly, the excitement that I felt when I saw snow for the first time. I can’t say I’ve felt the same way recently,” she joked of D.C.’s recent blizzard.
Moreno said she saw her parents work their way towards the American dream.
“We came to America with great hope, and our experience has greatly exceeded out expectations,” Moreno said. “For this reason I have always asked, ‘What can I give back for all that I have received?’ For me, the answer has always been public service, whether through my work at the Department of Justice or through my pro-bono activities. And friends, let me tell you there is no better place to give back than at the United States Department of Justice and in the Environment and Natural Resources Division.”
Moreno, who during the confirmation process had been criticized by some Environmental Protection Agency attorneys because of her work at General Electric, reaffirmed her commitment to environmental justice.
“In appropriate cases, we will work with companies who step up to the plate. But let me be clear [...] polluters will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” Moreno said.
Taking a swipe at the George W. Bush administration’s enforcement of environmental laws, Moreno noted that when she recently met with key leaders of the environmental justice community, “they told me that they had not been in this building in nine years. That was our first meeting, and it will not be our last.”
The ceremony ended with a rendition of “This Land Is Your Land” as sung by The Nine Inch Margins, a group made up of lawyers in the appellate section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division.
Video embedded below.
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The Justice Department wants to add dozens of tech-savvy staffers and several lawyers to handle the new problems posed by evolving technologies during the legal discovery process, according to the Justice Department’s budget proposal for fiscal 2011.
The Civil Division of the Justice Department is requesting 12 new positions and a $2 million budget increase, because it doesn’t have enough support staff with technical expertise. The Environment and Natural Resources Division has requested an additional $1 million and nine new positions. And, the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, which has no electronic discovery support in place, would like $2 million, to fund 12 new positions for electronic discovery and litigation support.
“It’s going to be a mess. That much is clear,” said an expert on figuring out how to handle the issue of e-discovery.
Newly appointed National Coordinator of Criminal Discovery Initiatives Andrew Goldsmith will act as the primary liaison to all of the United States Attorneys’ Offices and department components on issues related to electronic evidence in criminal cases, according to the Justice Department.
In May, former Deputy Attorney General David Ogden said that the department had established a working group under the direction of the Associate Attorney General, Tom Perrelli, “to look at our civil discovery practices and capabilities to ensure our litigators have the training and resources necessary to deal with the current demands in the electronic era.”
A Justice Department spokeswoman confirmed to Main Justice that the department is beefing up its training and seeking additional funding to hire new attorneys and technical staff.
“Based on interviews with e-discovery specialists from large, private law firms, it appears that the private sector is adapting to the demands of e-discovery by developing a cadre of lawyers with more sophisticated technological expertise,” according to a DOJ budget request for the Civil Division. The Civil Division will hire several “Tier-3” attorneys with e-discovery expertise to perform a number of functions including overseeing staff and coordinating with the government agencies they represent.
Consultant George Socha, the co-founder of the Electronic Discovery Reference Mode, which develops guidelines and standards for clients on the issues of electronic discovery, said the federal government, like private industry, is still figuring out the problems posed by new technology.
Unlike with paper, if you pick up a hard drive, said Socha, “you don’t have a clue what’s on it.” The amount of data that both government and private firms are dealing with is astronomical, according to Socha.
Varying requirements for the storage of information across the government agencies that the Civil Division has to defend could cause more confusion. Government is still figuring out ways to archive, store and search e-mail as a whole new set of problems — including new document formats, multimedia data that is not easily searchable and the movement towards “cloud-computing” — grow in popularity.
“Lawyers did not go to law school to figure out what to do with computers,” said Socha. “What we’re trying to do is to figure out what in the world it is we’re talking about. Can we break down this process into distinct units that become more manageable?”
Other decisions that the Justice Department would have to make is how to allocate resources — what percentage to dedicate to hiring new people, to providing training, to setting up formal processes and to purchasing new sets of tools to manage the flow of data, said Socha.
“It’s going to be a mess. That much is clear,” said Socha.
Andrew Ramonas contributed to this report.
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The two snowstorms in Washington, D.C., over the past week did not stop work in the Department of Justice’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division (ENRD). One trial team holed up at a downtown hotel, while other lawyers argued a motion via telephone in a case involving an endangered fish species in California.
Justice Department attorneys Michael Augustini, Martha Mann, Adam Katz and Meredith Weinberg — along with paralegals Jamie Wendell and Tim Oliver — spent last Friday through Wednesday frantically trying to meet a document production deadline for an upcoming Superfund trial in California.
The case, AISLIC v. US, involves a dispute over whether the federal government should help pay for the environmental cleanup of a former munitions facility run by a government contractor. The trial had been set to begin next week.
To be near the DOJ’s Patrick Henry Building at 601 D. St. NW, the trial team stayed at the nearby Hotel Monaco, with special approval of the department. The lawyers and paralegals were “working around the clock, ignoring their families, missing the Superbowl, in order to meet our deadlines and obligations,” said ENRD spokesman Andrew Ames.
After collecting the documents, members of the trial team traveled through the storm to the only open FedEx office in the area, on New York Ave. NE, in an effort to ship the materials to California. FedEx was not guaranteeing pickup at any Justice Department or other FedEx office.
A supervisor described the trial team’s efforts as “herculean,” while a 24-year veteran of the division called the team’s efforts “the most amazing trial preparation effort [I have] ever witnessed,” Ames said.
In the end, the judge in California granted an emergency extension and moved the trial back several days, because airlines were canceling flights and FedEx would not guarantee timely delivery of the documents.
The lawyers praised the work of the security guards at the Patrick Henry Building, where the ENRD employees worked. At one point during the course of the two storms, the security guards were not relieved for an entire day, Ames said.
The assistant chief overseeing the efforts was Cherie Rogers, and ENRD’s Executive Office, led by Bob Bruffy, also assisted this team, said Ames.
Separately, in the Wildlife and Marine Resources Section, attorneys Ethan Eddy and Jay Govindan got into the office on Tuesday and filed a motion in connection with litigation in the Eastern District of California to protect a small fish known as the Delta smelt.
By the time they finished, the second blizzard was hitting. The roads were treacherous, so the attorneys headed home.
On Wednesday, Eddy was stuck at home with no power or heat. Fortunately, his cell phone was charged, and he was able to argue the motion in California by phone. Govindan was also at home and arguing by phone, but had power. The judge ruled from the bench in favor of the government, according to Ames.
In addition, the division hosted a conference call Wednesday with multiple federal agencies and Great Lake states’ Attorneys General offices to discuss dealing with the problem of the invasive Asian carp, said Ames.
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As part of its initiative to address concerns about prosecutorial misconduct, the Justice Department today announced that an assistant chief in the Environment and Natural Resources Division will be its new national coordinator for its criminal discovery programs.
Andrew Goldsmith, First Assistant Chief of the ENRD’s Environmental Crimes Section, will direct the department’s efforts to educate prosecutors about their obligations to turn over potentially exculpatory or other information to defendants. His appointment comes a week after the department released new guidelines for federal prosecutors in applying discovery rules, part of an effort by the DOJ to head off judicial rules changes pushed by U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan that would restrict prosecutors’ discretion to decide what information in their possession is relevant to a defense team under Brady.
“Andrew brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in this field, and I am pleased he is taking on this crucial role,” Deputy Attorney General David Ogden said in a news release. “He will be instrumental in overseeing our efforts to ensure all of our prosecutors and law enforcement agents have the necessary training and tools to achieve fair and just results in the nation’s courts.”
Goldsmith’s job description includes, according to the news release:
- Creating an online directory of resources on discovery issues available to all prosecutors at their desktop
- Producing a handbook on discovery and case management similar to the Grand Jury Manual so that prosecutors will have an accessible and comprehensive resource on discovery obligations
- Implementing a training curriculum and a mandatory training program for paralegals and law enforcement agents
- Revitalizing the Computer Forensics Working Group to ensure the proper cataloguing of electronically stored information recovered as part of federal investigations
- Creating a pilot case management project to fully explore the available case management software and possible new practices to better catalogue law enforcement investigative files and to ensure that all the information is transmitted in the most useful way to federal prosecutors.
Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine said in a report to Congress last year that restoring confidence in the department is a major challenge after the high-profile public corruption case against former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) case was thrown out because of prosecutor mistakes.
Attorney General Eric Holder moved to dismiss the charges against Stevens in April, after an internal DOJ review revealed prosecutors had failed to give the defense material favorable to Stevens’ defense. A court-appointed counsel is investigating whether they did so intentionally. Fine said in the report that the Stevens fiasco “created concern about the prosecutors’ adherence to professional standards of conduct.”
On Dec. 31, U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina rebuked prosecutors in the District of Columbia for their handling of a manslaughter case against five former Blackwater Worldwide guards accused in a shooting incident in Iraq that left 17 people dead.
In ordering dismissal of the indictment, Urbina said prosecutors had violated the defendants’ constitutional rights by making use of compelled statements the guards had given about the incident under threat of losing their jobs.
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The Justice Department’s new Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division was sworn in Monday as the division celebrated its centennial.
Ignacia Moreno, who was confirmed on Nov. 5, later appeared at a ENRD celebration with Attorney General Eric Holder and former acting Assistant Attorney General John Cruden.
The event at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center brought together several hundred ENRD employees and alumni to celebrate the history of the division, which was retold through a multimedia presentation by Georgetown University Law Center Professor Richard Lazarus, formerly an attorney with the division.
Edwin Kneedler, Career Deputy Solicitor General, received the Muskie-Chafee Award. That award honors a current or former federal employee who has made significant contributions to protecting the environment, public lands and natural resources, and fulfilling the nation’s responsibilities to Native Americans, according to the Justice Department.
In September, Moreno defended her experience as a counsel for General Electric Co., which has been at odds with environmental groups. Some Environmental Protection Agency attorneys had expressed concerns about Moreno because of her work at GE, according to a report by ProPublica, a non-profit investigative web site.
Andrew Ramonas contributed to this story.
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The Senate confirmed four Justice Department officials by unanimous consent tonight.
-Laurie O. Robinson (Office of Justice Programs Assistant Attorney General): The OJP Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General and former office chief will succeed Bush OJP head Jeffrey Sedgwick, who resigned in January. She was nominated Sept. 14. Read our previous report on Robinson here.
-Carmen M. Ortiz (Massachusetts U.S. Attorney): The Massachusetts Assistant U.S. Attorney will replace Michael J. Sullivan, who stepped down in April to join a law firm headed by former Attorney General John Ashcroft. Read more about Ortiz here.
-Ed Tarver (Southern District of Georgia U.S. Attorney): The Georgia state senator and partner at Augusta, Ga., law firm Hull, Towill, Norman, Barrett & Salley will succeed Edmund A. Booth Jr., who resigned earlier this month. Read more about Tarver here.
-Benjamin Wagner (Eastern District of California U.S. Attorney): The Assistant U.S. Attorney will succeed McGregor Scott, who resigned in January. Wagner was nominated Aug. 6. Read more about Wagner here.
The Senate has now confirmed 21 U.S. Attorneys. The chamber must still consider three more U.S. Attorney nominees that were reported out of committee today.
Robinson is the second Assistant Attorney General to be confirmed today. The Senate confirmed Ignacia Moreno as the next Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division earlier this evening. There are three more Assistant Attorney General nominees waiting for confirmation in the Senate, including long-stalled Dawn Johnsen for the Office of Legal Counsel.
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The Senate confirmed Ignacia Moreno as the next Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division tonight by a 93-0 vote.
The former counsel for General Electric Co. was nominated June 8 and reported out of committee Sept. 24. She will succeed Ronald Tenpas, who resigned in January. Read more about Moreno here.
The full Senate still must vote on four more Assistant Attorneys General. Office of Legal Counsel nominee Dawn Johnsen has waited the longest for a vote in the full Senate. Obama nominated her for the post Feb. 11 and she was reported out of committee March 19.
This post was updated from an earlier version.
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