Late Night–Hollowing out DOJ
I have talked about this before, but my comments were based on anecdotal information that I was getting from friends and former colleagues still in law enforcement. However on Friday, the Wall Street Journal had a front page story confirming what I have been saying for quite some time.
DOJ is being hollowed out and it is having a very negative effect on the enforcement of criminal laws in this country. Shorter me–we are less safe!
Whoever succeeds Alberto Gonzales as attorney general will face a long list of challenges at the Justice Department, from unfilled senior positions to sagging morale. One of the most pressing, according to dozens of current and former federal prosecutors, is a budget squeeze at U.S. attorneys’ offices that has led to declines in crime prosecutions and delays in major investigations.
I mean think of it, other than Pat Fitz’s steamroller in NDIL (which just seems to keep churning out those indictments month after month–don’t those people ever sleep?), when was the last time you saw a press conference with a USA announcing a major new indictment, much less several indictments stemming from a complex massive investigation?
I live in NY. We are blessed with SDNY, which through good USA’s and bad, could always be counted on for AT LEAST 4 or 5 major indictment announcements a year, and at least one “trial of the century” a year.
Yes, I realize how funny that last line sounds, but you know what I mean.
Now, I’m the sort who would notice a press conference from one of the USA’s offices in my locale (NYC actually has both EDNY and SDNY within the 5 boro’s). I am the sort who would pay attention to the progress of a mega trial, as I did through all the mafia prosecutions and terror prosecutions of the 1980’s and 1990’s.
I’m a geek, and that sort of stuff is entertaining for me in addition to being very serious and important work.
However, there hasn’t been much to follow coming out of either EDNY or SDNY for the last few years. I cannot recall a drought like this since I started paying attention to criminal prosecutions.
The Justice Department confirmed that “budget constraints have affected operations” in the U.S. attorneys’ offices and have had an impact on the numbers of cases brought.
“Fewer cases were getting charged and bigger investigations were taking longer because there weren’t enough prosecutors to do them,” says Debra Yang, who stepped down in October 2006 as the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles. Department of Justice data show the impact. Prosecutions are down overall, with large drops in categories such as drugs, violent crime and white-collar offenses.
According to WSJ, lack of money is so acute, that US Attorney’s offices are having trouble paying for court reporters transcripts, travel to take depositions, and even photocopying. Lack of these basic tools coupled with lack of lawyers, led to a delay of nearly six months, six months in the investigation of Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Ca.) and delayed an investigation by the San Francisco office into corporate executives who backdated stock options, according to the Journal.
Brian Hershman, a former deputy chief of the Los Angeles office’s public corruption section, declined to comment on specific cases, but confirms that his group’s work overall was derailed by the departure of experienced prosecutors.
Replacements “are mostly rookies,” he says. “It will be some time before they’ll be able to restore the section to what it was before.”
So that’s it in a nutshell, DOJ has been hollowed out, many of the experienced people have been pushed out or left. Rookies—good gravy! Regent Law grads who could pass Monica Goodling’s superfun litmus test—are left to try to learn on the job. How will that happen without the superstructure of a full complement of experienced supervisors and mentors, a/k/a “career” DOJ attorneys? DOJ has been hollowed out and it’s gonna take years to rebuild, once somebody actually begins to try to rebuild.