From the knickers in a bunch file.
The feather-duster on the wrist that upset the Arizona Republic’s editorial board came courtesy of the public reprimand administered to Burke by Arizona’s lords of lawyer discipline.
But who’s Dennis Burke? What’s Fast and Furious? For those not paying attention or thinking popcorn and high-grossing street racing films with Vin Diesel and the late Paul Walker, the LA Times at “ATF guns sting: Fast and Furious operation” has one of the better, more succinct explanations of what’s what. “A federal operation dubbed Fast and Furious allowed weapons from the U.S. to pass into the hands of suspected gun smugglers so the arms could be traced to the higher echelons of Mexican drug cartels. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which ran the operation, has lost track of hundreds of firearms, many of which have been linked to crimes, including the fatal shooting of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010.”
Since Operation Fast and Furious took place on Burke’s watch, the furor, the scandal, and the partisan political witch-hunting that erupted following Brian Terry’s death quickly engulfed Burke, the most senior of the DOJ officials implicated.
According to a New York Times story, shortly before he resigned as U.S. Attorney, Burke admitted “he had been the source for a document obtained by Fox News about the A.T.F. agent, John Dodson, who helped disclose risky tactics used in the case.”
Lawyer discipline notwithstanding, I’m not sure why the Arizona Republic was so upset over what was one of the gentlest, almost apologetic censures I’ve ever read. And besides, Burke self-reported, too.
Most likely, Burke’s got BFFs at the paper. And so the editorialists were displeased. “What Burke did wasn’t something to be sanctioned,” they sniffed. “It was something to be celebrated.” See the March 27 disciplinary agreement here. Also see “DOJ Sought Scapegoat for Fast and Furious, Former Arizona U.S. Attorney Says.”
But Burke’s case aside, the elephant in the room.1 is really that hundreds of Department of Justice (DOJ) Attorneys have violated professional rules, laws or ethical standards — and that the public hasn’t a clue who they are. That’s because of DOJ’s longstanding practice of not disclosing the lawyers identified by its own Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). We’re talking federal lawyers who’ve committed infractions ranging from the sloppily inadvertent to the downright egregious.
According to the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), “The result: the Department, its lawyers, and the internal watchdog office itself are insulated from meaningful public scrutiny and accountability.” Per its website, POGO “is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.”
Through the Freedom of Information Act, POGO was able to obtain OPR data for a 12-year period from 2002 to 2013. Approximately 2,100 allegations of misconduct were unearthed ranging from intentional violations to mistakes and poor judgment involving federal attorneys. 650 instances were substantiated. Of these, more than 400 cases involved recklessness or intentional misconduct.
Meantime, the DOJ refuses to disclose the names of the lawyers OPR identified as having committed the offenses. In their number are federal attorneys who as OPR’s data reveals, misled courts at least 48 times, including 20 intentional violations; breached constitutional or civil rights 13 times; and did not provide exculpatory information to defendants 29 times. Read the POGO report here.
For the time being, wrist-slaps or not — they’re “the Untouchables” so don’t be looking for bar discipline either.
1Hat tip to Mark Brennan for sending me the link to POGO’s report concerning the U.S. DOJ refusal to disclose its attorney violators, including more than 400 categorized by its own internal investigatory agency as the more severe on its scale.
Photo Credits: “Dork,” by Dan4th Nicholas at Flickr via Creative Commons-licensing requiring attribution; “Dennis K. Burke,” Dennis_Burke_US_Attorney.jpg at Wikipedia Commons, work of U.S. Government, public domain; Animated version of File:Elephant walking.jpg, by Eadweard Muybridge at Wikipedia Commons, public domain; Hiding.1.jpg by Loveteamin at Wikimedia Commons under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.