Posts Tagged ‘politicized hiring’
Sunday, February 28th, 2010

Tim Purdon (Vogel Law Firm)

President Barack Obama has come under fire for his nomination of Tim Purdon for North Dakota U.S. Attorney, with some critics saying the prominent Democrat received the nomination for his party allegiance rather than his experience, Fox News reported Saturday.

Critics say that Purdon was chosen over more-qualified candidates due to his political connections. Purdon — who was on the executive committee of the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party from February 2006 until his resignation earlier this month — has no prosecutorial experience. Read about his full background here.

Bill Brudvik, who had been a candidate for the job, initially criticized Obama for the nomination of Purdon in an interview with the Fargo Forum, but on Saturday he declined comment to Fox News. “I’ve said way too much,” Brudvik told Fox.

Others who were under consideration for the job were Jasper Schneider, a state representative and Fargo attorney; Janice Morley, an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Fargo; and Rebecca Thiem, an attorney with Zuger Kirmis & Smith in Bismarck.

Scott Hennen, a conservative commentator in North Dakota, blasted Purdon’s political connections and his background as a criminal defense attorney, Fox News reported.

“Talk about the fox guarding the hen house,” he wrote on his Web site. “Looks like Purdon’s lifetime service to the Democrats — raising mega bucks for big government-loving tax-hiking liberals — is getting rewarded.”

Purdon has the support of his state’s delegation.

Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy, in a statement, called Purdon an “outstanding choice.”

“He is well respected and an example of how dedication, education and hard work pay off. He has a distinguished record and has proven his ability to enforce the law with conviction and courage,” Pomeroy added. “We are confident he will make a fine U.S. attorney, upholding the Constitution and protecting all North Dakotans.”

In a written statement to Fox News, Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) also defended Purdon.

“Tim Purdon is a talented attorney with a distinguished legal record. As has been stated previously, Senator Conrad has complete confidence in Mr. Purdon’s ability to enforce the law and serve the people of North Dakota,” Conrad wrote.

If confirmed, Purdon would replace Drew Wrigley, who was the district’s U.S. Attorney from 2001 until Sept. 11, 2009. The district’s current acting U.S. Attorney is Lynn C. Jordheim.

Friday, December 18th, 2009

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has put in place new hiring rules that division leaders say will prevent the type of politicized hiring that an Inspector General’s report concluded took place during the Bush administration.

“It really is based on the following very simple premise, which is to hire the best qualified people, plain and simple,” said Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, head of the Civil Rights Division, in a briefing with reporters yesterday. “We have put in place systems that will ensure that career staff are involved — hiring committees in each section — so that we get the input of career staff.”

The hiring rules, which career staffers helped write, are not permanent and could be changed by future administrations.

Perez said that the Justice Department funding bill signed by President Obama this week will allow the Civil Rights Division to hire 102 new people, the majority of them lawyers, which Perez said will be an important part of the division’s “restoration and revitalization efforts.”

In a January report, the department’s internal watchdogs concluded that Bradley Schlozman, who was a deputy and acting head of the division during the Bush administration, violated federal law in his quest to stock the division with his political allies. During his tenure, Schlozman hired 99 lawyers, according to the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General and the Office of Professional Responsibility. Sixty-three of them had Republican affiliations, two of them were Democrats, and 34 were labeled as “unknown,” according to the report.

One of those lawyers hired by Schlozman in the Voting Section, J. Christian Adams, brought a voter intimidation case against members of the New Black Panther Party in the last days of the Bush administration. His lawyer has been arguing with the Justice Department that Adams has an obligation to follow the directive of a subpoena from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights about the handling of the case.

The Obama transition team’s confidential report on the division, obtained by The New York Times and since cited by Perez in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, showed that 236 civil rights lawyers left from 2003 to 2007. The division has about 350 lawyers, which will increase to more than 400 under the Justice Department’s new budget for fiscal 2010.

A memo describing the new hiring rules posted on the Civil Rights Division Web site is embedded below.

Attorney Hiring Experienced

Joe Palazzolo contributed to this story.

Thursday, November 19th, 2009
Although he pled guilty to a felony conflict of interest in violation of 18
U.S.C. §§ 208 & 216(a)(2), Ex. 1, Coughlin fails fully to acknowledge that he has committed a

serious crime. He does so in five ways

T

The Justice Department’s Inspector General investigated two DOJ officials in connection with the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, but they were never charged, according to court papers filed Wednesday night.

The disclosure came in a government sentencing memorandum for Robert Coughlin II, a former lawyer in the Office of Intergovernmental and Public Liaison and deputy chief of staff in the Criminal Division. Coughlin, the only DOJ official to be charged in the influence-peddling probe, pleaded guilty in April 2008 to a conflict of interest charge. Coughlin is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 24.

The memo does not name the other two DOJ officials, but it notes that the investigations are closed. The sentencing memo seems to put to rest questions about whether any other Justice officials, past or current, could face prosecution in the Abramoff probe.

The memo notes Coughlin’s help to prosecutors in probing other aspects of the case, but points out that he was “minimal assistance” in its investigation of former Abramoff associate Kevin Ring. Still, the Justice Department is crediting him for his earlier help. Coughlin faces up to six months in prison — but that’s unlikely, given his assistance and the treatment received by the majority of the other 17 officials convicted in the probe.

Federal prosecutors had planned to use Coughlin as a witness in the trial of Ring, who gave him more than $4,000 in meals and tickets to concerts and sporting events. Prosecutors say Coughlin helped Ring achieve lobbying victories, giving him inside information and setting up meetings with officials in return for a stream of gifts.

Days before he was to testify, Coughlin told prosecutors during a mock cross-examination that he felt he was unfairly targeted by the Justice Department and that “the things of value Mr. Ring gave him did not influence his official actions,” according to court papers.

Prosecutors dropped Coughlin from the witness list and “had to scramble on the eve of the trial to find other witnesses who could fully and accurately describe Ring’s efforts to corruptly influence and reward DOJ officials,” the memo says. (Ring’s case ended last month in a mistrial. Prosecutors have said they will bring the case again.)

Before Coughlin’s revelation during trial preparation, he had submitted to eight interviews with various agents.

According to prosecutors:

Coughlin was interviewed by DOJ Office of the Inspector General (OIG) agents regarding other DOJ officials. He was also interviewed by an FBI agent regarding the broader Abramoff investigation. And he was interviewed by a DOJ Inspector General agent regarding allegations of politicized hiring at DOJ. The bulk of these interviews required him to travel to Washington, D.C., and to stay overnight. These interviews were of some use in closing the OIG’s investigations of two DOJ officials, and in completing the investigation of allegations of politicized hiring at the DOJ.

During the Ring trial, David Ayres, the chief of staff to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to avoid testifying.

Ring’s lawyers wanted to question Ayres about a $16.3 million grant the Justice Department awarded to one of Ring’s tribal clients in 2002 and college basketball tickets he and his wife received from the lobbyist.

Prosecutors said Ring intended to cultivate Ayres, who is now CEO of Ashcroft’s consulting firm, with the tickets in return for future favors.

The government alleged that in January 2002 Ayres helped Ring secure the grant for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, overruling then-Deputy Assistant Attorney General Tracy Henke, who thought the $16.3 million figure, to be used for a new jail, was too much.

Ring’s defense lawyers said they could show that Ayres did not make the decision to award the grant.

Friday, October 16th, 2009

During an interview with NPR’s “All Things Considered” Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the delay in the nomination and confirmation of U.S. Attorneys is due in part to the politicization during the Bush administration. Holder said he is being cautious in naming U.S. Attorneys because he wants “to get this right” so that the attorneys will be in a position to “enforce the law in an impartial, nonpolitical way.” He added that between 60 and 65 candidates have either been nominated or vetted. Holder said he hopes the process can be completed by the first part of 2010.

Check out the interview here:

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Thursday, October 15th, 2009
Tom Perez (maryland.gov)

Tom Perez (maryland.gov)

Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, the new chief of the Civil Rights Division, appeared on the Kojo Nnamdi Show Thursday. If you didn’t tune in, click here for a link to the audio file.

Below, we’ve highlighted a section in which Perez discusses hiring in the division — a touchy subject in a component buffeted by turnover and politically motivated personnel decisions during the Bush administration.

But first, a little background.

In a January report, the department’s internal watchdogs concluded that Bradley Schlozman, who was a deputy and acting head of the division during the Bush administration, violated federal law in his quest to stock the division with his political equals. During his tenure, Schlozman hired 99 lawyers, according to the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility. Sixty-three of them had Republican affiliations, two of them were Democrats, and 34 were labeled as “unknown.”

The Obama transition team’s confidential report on the division, obtained by The New York Times, showed that 236 civil rights lawyers left from 2003 to 2007. The division has about 350 lawyers. The Obama administration hopes to add about 50 more.

Here’s the exchange:

Caller: I wanted to know what is going to happen in your division to the people who were hired as a result of political influence or favoritism because they were conservatives?

Perez: Our hiring process is going to be nonpartisan. It is whoever is the most qualified candidate for the job. Our employee review process is going to be similarly nonpartisan. If you are doing the job and doing it well, you will continue to do it. If you are not doing the job, you will be held accountable, whether you came here three years ago or whether you came here 20 years ago. It will be a function of a very transparent process in which people have an opportunity to be heard. But I spoke with the division yesterday, and I said we have a lot of work to do, we need to move forward and do that work. I have great faith in the passion and talent of the career staff. And we will indeed work hard to ensure our review processes are fair…and people who are doing great work will be rewarded and people who are not doing great work are accountable.

Nnamdi: What do you say to people who say, look, the people who follow the traditional civil rights activists in our nation, many of whom sought relief from the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department over the years, even if they’re doing work, even if they are career employees, can generally be considered as politically liberal? So what the Bush administration was simply trying to do was to have some balance among the career employees in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. What you seem to be suggesting is that there’s not likely to be that ideological balance anymore, so we are suspicious.

Perez: That’s not really what I’m saying, Kojo. What I’m saying is that the inspector general report noted that laws were violated, that…inquiries were being made into ideology, things of that nature. Again, when I was on the hiring committee for entry level lawyers in ‘91, ‘92, and ‘93, our charge from Republicans and Democrats was the same: Hire the best qualified people. I don’t care if you’re a Republican, Democrat, Independent, any other party. I care about whether you have the talent, experience and fire in the belly to do the job. And that is what we are going to return to because that was frankly lost all too frequently in the last eight years. And that’s regrettably documented in the IG report.

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

A federal judge Wednesday threw out the bulk of a lawsuit brought by onetime candidates for the Justice Department’s Honor’s Program and summer internships who say they were denied admission for their left-leaning affiliations.

Judge John Bates (USDCDC)

The lawsuit stems from a June 2008 report by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility and Office of the Inspector General, which found that hundreds of applicants were turned away from the programs in 2002 and 2006, after political appointees took over the hiring process. Investigators found that those with liberal leanings or affiliations were rejected more than three times as often as their conservative counterparts.

Less than a week after the report was released, a group of candidates sued the department and several current and former Justice Department officials, alleging violations of the Privacy Act, the Civil Service Reform Act, the Federal Records Act and the Constitution. (For more background on the case and the players involved, click here.)

In an opinion published Wednesday evening, Judge John Bates, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, dismissed five of eight plaintiffs from the case, citing pleading deficiencies and lack of standing. He declined to wade into constitutional claims against the individuals —  including former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; Esther Slater McDonald, former counsel to the Associate Attorney General; Michael Elston, former chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty; former White House Liaison Monica Goodling; and Louis DeFalaise, Director of the Office of Attorney Recruitment and Management.

Rather than pursue the officials in federal court, the plaintiffs should have taken their complaints to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which protects federal employees and applicants from prohibited personnel practices, Bates said.

“To be certain, the Court agrees that misconduct by senior government officials — especially when it implicates the First Amendment — is gravely serious and must not be condoned,” Bates wrote. “But defendants have raised several threshold issues that potentially prevent this Court from considering the merits of plaintiffs’ case.”

But Bates preserved claims brought by James Saul, Matthew Faiella and Daniel Herber alleging breeches of their privacy. Saul, Faiella and Herber say McDonald trolled the Internet for evidence of their political and ideological leanings, then created printouts of the information and made written comments on the applications. The records were irrelevant and improperly used to disqualify the three applicants, hampering their search for a job after law school and costing them money and emotional distress, they allege.

“At this stage of the case, then, and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of plaintiffs, the Court concludes that plaintiffs have satisfied their pleading burden by alleging that their deselections were caused by the records at issue here,” Bates wrote.

But Bates said he was mindful of the tension between the the Civil Service Reform Act and the Privacy Act, raising the possibility that the claims will be revisited after discovery.

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

A federal judge today called revelations contained in a watchdog’s report on politicized hiring at the Justice Department “deplorable” but appeared skeptical of a lawsuit brought on behalf of Honors Program candidates, who say they were denied entry during the Bush administration for their liberal affiliations.

The eight plaintiffs, represented by American University law professor Daniel Metcalfe, say former Justice Department officials politicized the process, mishandled applications and destroyed records, violating the Privacy Act, the Civil Service Reform Act and the Federal Records Act. The plaintiffs also allege violations of their constitutional rights.

The lawsuit names former Attorney General Alberto GonzalesEsther Slater McDonald, former counsel to the associate attorney general; Michael Elston, former chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty; former White House Liaison Monica Goodling; and Louis DeFalaise, director of the Office of Attorney Recruitment and Management.

The lawsuit stems from a June 2008 report by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility. Hundreds of applicants for summer internships and Honors Programs spots were turned away in 2002 and 2006, after political appointees took over the hiring process. Investigators found that those with liberal leanings or affiliations were rejected more than three times as often as their conservative counterparts.

Judge John Bates said the report’s findings were “deplorable and unfortunate,” during a three-hour hearing at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. And John Tyler, assistant director of the Civil Division’s Federal Programs Branch, said the report documented “a dark chapter in the department’s history.”

But Tyler said the case should be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, arguing that under the Civil Service Reform Act, the plaintiffs should have taken their complaints to the Office of Special Counsel, a government agency that protects federal workers.

The judge appeared to agree that many the claims were precluded by the CSRA, an argument that was also made by Gonzales’ lawyer, Vincent Cohen Jr. of Shertler & Onorato. Cohen said the plaintiffs failed to explore their administrative options and that the CSRA allowed enough remedies “so that the plaintiffs can be made whole.”

Metcalfe, who retired from the Justice Department in 2007 after more than 35 years, said that was “crazy talk.” His clients, he said, could not return to their final year of law school and reapply for the Honors program. Congress never figured on his clients’ situation when it passed the CSRA, Metcalfe said.

He pressed Bates to dig deeper in the case “to make a judgment about deterrence.”

At times, the judge was impatient with Metcalfe.

“I am not the United States Congress. I am not the inspector general of an agency of the executive branch. I’m not the Fourth Estate,” Bates said. “My job is not to expose.”

Much of the argument focused on Justice officials’ use of the Internet to trowel for information about prospective hires. Tyler said the collection was normal; the harm was in using that information to weed out individuals. But “prohibited employment activity” is the province of the Office of Special Counsel, not a federal court, Tyler said.

But Bates seemed more sensitive to Metcalfe’s arguments on this score, perhaps because the Justice Department veteran is the former head of the Office of Information and Privacy. Metcalfe said records of information triggered the Privacy Act.

“You can’t have that information to begin with,” Metcalfe said.

Bates took the matter under advisement, but he tipped his hand a bit at the end. The judge asked, “hypothetically,” what would come next in the case were he to preserve a portion of it.

Tyler and Metcalfe said the next phase would be discovery. Metcalfe did not say whether he intended to depose each defendant, but he didn’t rule it out, either.