LAT: USA Threatened Corruption Prosecutors to Stay Silent

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Earlier this week, we reported on the decision by U.S. Attorney for Los Angeles Thomas O’Brien to disband the office’s public corruption unit. The official line from O’Brien was that disbanding the 17-lawyer unit would actually boost the number of public corruption investigations, because other units would now have the opportunity to take on such cases. The was a line of reasoning with which a former prosecutor from that office disagreed.

And not surprisingly, the current lawyers there don’t think much of that either. But, reports The Los Angeles Times, O’Brien warned them not to dispute that publicly:

[I]n interviews with The 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.

Lawyers from that office also say that O’Brien’s move might lead to an increase in the number of prosecutions, but they will be more in the mold of “filings against postal employees stealing mail and other relatively minor cases but ‘don’t look for any long, drawn-out City Hall corruption cases.'”

The misleading spin doesn’t end there, however. The spokesman for the office told the Times that the Los Angeles’ office was completely unique — that no other office in the country has an entire section of lawyers specializing in public corruption cases.

That’s not true. The public integrity unit in Manhattan’s U.S. Attorney Office is famously handling now-ex-Gov. Elliot Spitzer’s (D) entanglement with the Emperor’s Club prostitution ring, and U.S. Attorney for Chicago Patrick Fitzgerald has a public corruption section in his office — an office that’s handled the wide-ranging investigation into the administration of Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D).

Actually, given those units’ recent success in making the lives of governors miserable, you can bet that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) isn’t too upset about this move.