New DOJ Unit Will Handle Disciplining Lawyers For Prosecutorial Misconduct

Attorney General Eric Holder announced Tuesday that the Justice Department has created a new unit to handle disciplinary actions arising from findings of misconduct by career federal prosecutors.

The new Professional Misconduct Review Unit will handle disciplinary actions for career attorneys at the Department of Justice that arise from Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) investigations, DOJ said.“The current procedures for resolving these disciplinary matters consume too much time, and risk inconsistent resolutions, but this new Unit will help change that by providing consistent, fair, and timely resolution of these cases,” Holder in a statement.

“In the vast majority of cases, Department attorneys meet their professional obligations but when allegations of misconduct occur, all parties deserve a fair and timely resolution,” he said. “This Unit will be instrumental in achieving that goal and will also further the Department’s mission of meeting its ethical obligations in every case.”

OPR has come under fire from Justice Department inspector generals and federal judges because of how it handles allegations of misconduct, which derailed the prosecution of high profile cases like that of the late Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK).

The Justice Department said in a news release that the unit will only review cases involving findings of intentional or reckless professional misconduct. Said DOJ:

The Unit was created as a result of a comprehensive review of existing disciplinary procedures and processes with the aim of creating a more efficient and uniform system. OPR, EOUSA, the Criminal Division, the Justice Management Division and the Office of Attorney Recruitment and Management conducted the review and recommended the creation of the Unit. At the outset, the Unit will focus on cases involving career attorneys from the recommending components though the Department expects to expand the jurisdiction of the Unit to cover other litigating components over time.

Holder appointed Kevin Ohlson, a long time career prosecutor now serving as his current chief of staff, to head the unit.

Ohlson himself was a witness to the politicization of the Justice Department during the George W. Bush administration. Ohlson, who served as deputy director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review, told the Inspector General’s investigators that he was “fully aware of the fact” that Kyle Sampson, a former chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, was pushing Karl Rove’s pick for an appointment as a federal immigration judge. “The finger was on the scale,” Ohlson said.

In a Dec. 7, 2005 e-mail, Ohlson told to Jan Williams (the predecessor of Monica Goodling) that a candidate’s conduct during his EOIR interview “causes us to question whether he possesses the appropriate judicial temperament and demeanor to serve as an immigration judge.”

Ohlson wrote that the candidate used profanity during the interview, acted abrasively, and when asked what his greatest weakness was, responded “Blondes.”

Holder praised Ohlson in a statement as an “extraordinary prosecutor and public servant.”

“I know that he will bring the high standards of professionalism and integrity that he has always demonstrated to this new position,” Holder said.