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Lapsed Ethics at Justice

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Attorney General Holder has responded to widespread public and judicial criticism of the lapsed ethics standards of the Justice Department by appointing a new head of the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), the office which has responsibility for enforcement of professional ethics guidelines for the department’s legal personnel. The New York Times reports:

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced Wednesday that he was replacing the top official of an internal Justice Department ethics unit investigating the accusations of prosecutorial misconduct that led to the dismissal of criminal charges against former Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska. Mr. Holder named Mary Patrice Brown, a senior prosecutor and chief of the criminal division in the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, to lead the Office of Professional Responsibility, succeeding H. Marshall Jarrett, its director since 1998.

Ms. Brown could play a role in presenting the findings of a recently completed inquiry into the conduct of department lawyers who provided legal advice authorizing the use of harsh interrogation techniques, including waterboarding. Many lawmakers have condemned the practice and Obama administration officials, including Mr. Holder, have described it as torture. A draft report on legal opinions dealing with interrogation was completed before President George W. Bush left office, but the department has not released it, despite repeated requests by two Democratic senators, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

Over the past eight years, OPR repeatedly investigated allegations of prosecutorial misconduct brought in politically-charged cases. Even when it found accusations sustained, OPR regularly failed to make any recommendations for disciplinary action and generally it swept the accusations under the rug, a process that contributed to the current problems. Its investigation of the torture memoranda has also been pending for four years without being brought to fruition. In the current case it is being re-written to be “toned down” in its conclusions as a result of instructions that came from Attorney General Michael Mukasey–a clear demonstration of the spineless and politically subordinated state to which OPR was reduced in the Bush era.

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