Today the Los Angeles Times takes a look at the decision of U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien to dissolve his public integrity unit and notes a great deal of discord. The official explanation was that the unit was being integrated into a larger one, leaving more resources to be devoted to public integrity matters. Few are buying that explanation, and some of O’Brien’s own staffers defied his gag order to challenge it in discussions with the L.A. Times:
several members of the disbanded unit challenged that explanation, saying the move was intended to punish lawyers for a perceived failure to produce and for bad-mouthing their boss, U.S. Atty. Thomas P. O’Brien.
The lawyers described a meeting last week in which an angry O’Brien derided attorneys in the office for working too few hours, filing too few cases and for speaking ill of him to subordinates.
They said O’Brien also threatened to tarnish their reputations if they challenged the official explanation for the unit’s dismantling in conversations with reporters. Members of the unit contacted by The Times either spoke on the condition that they not be named or declined to comment. Several said they wanted to talk about the situation but feared reprisals if they did so.
Critics of the move said they were concerned that it would severely limit the office’s ability to file long-term, complex corruption cases involving elected officials and other high-profile figures.
The office had one major investigation pending, looking into corruption allegations focusing on Republican Congressman Jerry Lewis of Redlands. O’Brien took a series of decisions immediately on his arrival to slow, and then stop that investigation. His decision to disband the unit that was handling it was the last in a series of maneuvers.