No Comment — September 29, 2010, 12:53 pm

Misconduct at DOJ: Who Pays the Bill?

USA Today continues its study of abusive federal prosecutions, reporting on the efforts of victims to recover their legal costs by relying on the Hyde Amendment, which “was intended to deter misconduct and compensate people who are harmed when federal prosecutors cross the line.” It finds that through aggressive lawyering, the DOJ has effectively gutted the Hyde Amendment and frustrated its aim of ensuring that the government bears the economic burden when prosecutors misbehave.

Colonel Robert Morris, for example, was prosecuted for “conspiring to steal military supplies” on facts so absurd that the judge warned the prosecutors to drop the case. Although often enough juries convict in bogus cases, Morris was lucky: a jury acquitted him in 45 minutes. “By then, though, his career had derailed. His parents had mortgaged their home to help with $250,000 in legal bills. He had drained his own savings.” Henry Hyde’s amendment was intended to assure that people like Colonel Morris would get their costs back. But the Justice Department mobilized its battalions of attorneys to subvert the law and protect itself. It refused to pay a cent.

The courts, filled with Justice Department alumni, have lent the Department a helping hand in this process, imposing hurdles that can’t be found anywhere in the text of the Hyde Amendment. Typical is the Eleventh Circuit, which has held that only a plaintiff who can show the prosecutor’s “state of mind [was] affirmatively operating with furtive design or ill will” can obtain recovery. But since everything the prosecutor does is shielded by prosecutorial immunity, this burden is all but impossible to meet. Even in rare cases like Axion, discussed here, where the claimants had copious evidence of bad-faith and invidious if not racist motivation, the Eleventh Circuit found the burden was unmet. (In that case the evidence implicating the Department in unethical and abusive conduct was so strong and embarrassing that the Department was shamed into paying up anyway.)

The Justice Department’s successful subversion of the Hyde Amendment demonstrates its lack of accountability within the federal criminal justice system. One of the more interesting passages in the article is this:

Michael Zomber already had served his two-year sentence when prosecutors agreed to throw out his conviction stemming from a 2003 conspiracy indictment. There was just one catch: He had to give up his right to seek government repayment of his $1 million legal bills. Before agreeing to a dismissal, federal prosecutors used Zomber’s right to seek government repayment as a bargaining chip. A federal jury in Pennsylvania had convicted Zomber of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud for the sale of four antique Colt pistols to businessman Joseph Murphy. Prosecutors said the weapons were worth half of what Murphy paid for them, and that Zomber lied to increase the price. Zomber, now 60, spent almost two years in a federal prison camp before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit threw out his conviction. It found that the prosecutor, Robert Goldman, had failed to give Zomber’s defense the letters Murphy wrote to Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates offering to resell the pistols “at cost”—the same price Murphy paid. Goldman said he did nothing wrong and warned USA TODAY that he would have any article about Zomber’s case “reviewed by counsel for potential litigation.”

A federal prosecutor is threatening to sue USA Today for having the audacity to report about a case he mishandled—and in which, as usual, his victim was uncompensated and forced to serve jail time on a meritless claim. This sums up the Department’s current posture very ably: we make no mistakes, and if you suggest otherwise, we may have to sue you.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

From the June 2014 issue

The Guantánamo “Suicides,” Revisited

A missing document suggests a possible CIA cover-up

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

March 2015

A Sage in Harlem

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Man Stopped

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Spy Who Fired Me

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Giving Up the Ghost

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Invisible and Insidious

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

[Browsings]
William Powell published The Anarchist Cookbook in 1971. He spent the next four decades fighting to take it out of print.
“The book has hovered like an awkward question on the rim of my consciousness for years.”
© JP Laffont/Sygma/Corbis
Article
The Fourth Branch·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Both the United States and the Soviet Union saw student politics as a proxy battleground for their rivalry.”
Photograph © Gerald R. Brimacombe/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
Article
Giving Up the Ghost·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Stories about past lives help explain this life — they promise a root structure beneath the inexplicable soil of what we see and live and know, what we offer one another.”
Illustration by Steven Dana
Article
The Spy Who Fired Me·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In industry after industry, this data collection is part of an expensive, high-tech effort to squeeze every last drop of productivity from corporate workforces.”
Illustration by John Ritter
Article
Invisible and Insidious·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Wherever we are, radiation finds and damages us, at best imperceptibly.”
Photograph © 2011 Massimo Mastrorillo and Donald Weber/VII

Number of U.S. congressional districts in which trade with China has produced more jobs than it has cost:

1

Young bilingual children who learned one language first are likelier than monolingual children and bilingual children who learned languages simultaneously to say that a dog adopted by owls will hoot.

An Oklahoma legislative committee voted to defund Advanced Placement U.S. History courses, accusing the curriculum of portraying the United States as “a nation of oppressors and exploiters.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Driving Mr. Albert

By

He could be one of a million beach-bound, black-socked Florida retirees, not the man who, by some odd happenstance of life, possesses the brain of Albert Einstein — literally cut it out of the dead scientist's head.

Subscribe Today