Holder to prosecutors: ‘Your job is to do justice’

April 9, 2009

Yesterday new assistant U.S. attorneys being sworn in at a Washington, D.C. ceremony got a surprise guest speaker: their boss, Attorney General Eric Holder.

holder41Holder, speaking as investigators are probing allegations of prosecutorial misconduct in the handling of the criminal corruption case of former Sen. Ted Stevens, reiterated to the new prosecutors that their goal should be obtaining justice, not just a conviction.

“Your job as assistant U.S. attorneys is not to convict people,” Holder said, according to the AP. “Your job is not to win cases. Your job is to do justice. Your job is in every case, every decision that you make, to do the right thing. Anybody who asks you to do something other than that is to be ignored. Any policy that is at tension with that is to be questioned and brought to my attention. And I mean that.”

Holder, whose appearance at the event was not announced, addressed the Stevens case specifically. “There were mistakes made in the Stevens case,” he said. “We’ll see exactly what those mistakes were all about. …There are going to be a lot of articles, I suspect you’re going in newspapers over the next couple of days, about how things have gone wrong in the department. A lot of these articles are going to be unfair. And yet we have to deal with those perceptions. We’re capable of dealing with them, but the only way ultimately that we’re going to restore faith in this department is through the work that you all do.”

Restoring that faith means that prosecutors cannot sacrifice justice in pursuit of a guilty verdict, Holder said. “You are expected to do nothing more than the right thing. Anything other than that is unacceptable,” he said.


Friday morning docket: Blossoms and buzz

April 3, 2009

cherryblossomsjeffersonWith the cherry blossoms in full bloom here, the members of the three branches of government are, fittingly, busy as bees.

After a busy week of decisions, non-decisions and oral arguments, the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court are back at work this morning, holding a private conference. That means orders – including possible new cert grants, could be forthcoming, and we’ll bring you newsworthy updates here.

Across the street from the Supremes, Congress has been hard at work tackling issues like the budget, health care and tobacco regulation.

And though President Barack Obama spent most the week in Europe meeting with world leaders, the multitasker also unveiled his first federal appellate judge nominations, naming picks for some vacancies on the 2nd and 4th Circuits.

Meanwhile,

Do over in Alaska? After federal prosecutors moved this week to toss a conviction handed down against former Sen. Ted Stevens, who lost his seat in November, Republicans want a new election. (NYT)

Credential check: After a convicted felon with no law degree managed to pose as an attorney and represent clients in 16 cases in 10 different federal courts, the Judicial Conference has set a new policy requiring courts to more carefully check attorneys’ credentials. (Lawyers USA)

Ice cold COLA: Federal judges, including the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, will get a 2.8 percent cost-of-living-adjustment for 2009 under the recently enacted Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009. (Lawyers USA)

Lending crackdown: A bill that would impose tougher standards governing mortgage lending in an effort to stamp out predatory practices was filed in the House.  (Lawyers USA)

Bad assist: Assisted living lawsuits are mounting, and plaintiffs’ lawyers say poorly trained staff and lax regulations are to blame for incidents of abuse and neglect of residents. (Lawyers USA)


DC Dicta asks: Does it take a judge to be a justice?

February 17, 2009

Every single current Supreme Court justice is a former federal appellate judge. And Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. likes it that way.

cjrobertsThe high court has been an all fed-bred team since Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a former state judge and state legislator, retired. By contrast, when Roberts’ predecessor Chief Justice William Rehnquist took the center seat, former federal judges were in the minority.

But since that time, Roberts said, the Court has become more efficient, with the justices approaching issues in a relatively similar way. “The practice of constitutional law – how constitutional law was made – was more fluid and wide ranging than it is today, more in the realm of political science,” Roberts said in speech at the University of Arizona’s Rehnquist Center, as reported by The New York Times‘ Adam Liptak. But since then “the method of analysis and argument shifted to the more solid grounds of legal arguments. What are the texts of the statutes involved? What precedents control?”

But apparently President Barack Obama doesn’t agree, meaning Roberts’ beloved bench of federal alums may not last too long. Obama’s “new” vision of Washington means he’s likely be looking in more places than the federal judiciary for Supreme Court picks – after all, his solicitor general pick Elena Kagan, who has never been a judge or even argued before the Supremes, is still on the list of potential picks.

Others said to be on Obama’s mind include Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Harvard Law uber-academic Cass Sunstein.

But is experience more important than having justices from a diversity of experiences who approach legal analysis in different ways? What do you think?


Friday morning docket: Depressing news edition

February 6, 2009

blsToday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in January, more jobs were cut than in any one-month period since 1974. The news comes as the president and congressional lawmakers continue to try hash out their differences over an economic stimulus package. The Supreme Court continues its summer recess, which gives Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg some extra recovery time after yesterday’s pancreatic cancer surgery.

Meanwhile,

Ginsburg surgery reignites rumor mill: As Ginsburg recovers, speculation is swirling over whether President Barack Obama may be faced with the task of selecting a U.S. Supreme Court justice early in his tenure. (Lawyers USA)

Another taxing issue: A Senate panel postponed a vote on President Obama’s nomination of Representative Hilda L. Solis as labor secretary, after questions were raised about tax liens against her husband’s business. (AP)

Do not pass Go, Do not collect $200: Sen. Patrick Leahy wants food producers responsible for widespread, deadly outbreaks of disease should go to jail. (AP).

O’Connor back on the job: Retirement, schmretirement. Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was on a panel of judges hearing oral argument in three cases pending before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Tulane Law School Tuesday. (The New Orleans Times-Picayune)

scalia1Nino the Bully? CBS legal analyst Andrew Cohen thinks Justice Antonin Scalia, who this week derided a college student for asking him a “nasty, impolite question,” should stop being such a bully. (CBS News)


Chief justice vexed by politics of judicial confirmations

February 5, 2009

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. expressed concern that the process of confirming federal judges has become too politicized.

cjrobertsSpeaking at the University of Arizona’s law school Wednesday, Roberts said that the judiciary operates completely independent of the politics that are involved in both the executive and legislative branches. Politicized confirmation processes threaten that independence, Roberts said.

“I think we need to have a broader recognition that we are not part of the political process, that we are not representatives of either an administration or a confirming Senate on the court,” Roberts said, according to an AP report. “Your perspective on everything changes the moment you take the judicial oath.”

He said he is not alone in his worry over partisan judicial confirmations. “The courts as a whole are very concerned about partisanship, politicization, seeping into the judicial branch,” he said.

Roberts did add that he thinks his own Senate confirmation was fair, noting that he received “significant support from both sides of the aisle. But that’s not always the case, and what do we do about it?”


Judge charged with behaving badly – again

January 7, 2009

kentAs noted in Lawyers USA last October, there has been a recent spate of allegations of improper behavior by federal judges – both on and off the bench. Now one of the judges noted, U.S, District Judge Samuel Kent of Texas, who already faces charges of abusive sexual conduct and attempted aggravated sexual assault for allegedly fondling a courthouse employee, is facing more charges in a separate incident.

Yesterday Kent was indicted again on new charges of sexually abusing another court employee and lying about it to federal investigators, reports ABA Journal and The Houston Chronicle. He’s expected to be arraigned on the new charges today.

Kent remains on the bench as he awaits trial on the first charge, set for later this month. He cannot hear cases involving sexual misconduct or matters concerning the Department of Justice.


Move over ‘Joe the Plumber’ – here comes ‘Lilly the Tire Manager’

January 6, 2009

ledbetterA Supreme Court precedent may soon become history, and the move involves the Democrats’ answer to “Joe the Plumber.”

Her name is Lilly Ledbetter, and since the May 2007 Supreme Court decision that the statute of limitations for her disparate pay claims under Title VII was not restarted with each unequal paycheck she was issued, she has become a legal folk hero for Democrats seeking to reverse the ruling.

That may happen soon, according to The New York Times, which reports that a bill overturning Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. may be among the first to get Barack Obama’s signature after he takes office.

“Obama said he would see me in the White House when he signs the bill,” Ledbetter, a former manager at a Alabama Goodyear tire plant, told the Times in an interview.

Democrats want to move quickly on the legislation, which stalled in the last Congress after facing a surefire veto threat from President George W. Bush. Since the Supreme Court’s ruling, courts around the country have been throwing out discrimination claims involving litigants who claimed, as Ledbetter did, that they were unaware of the unequal pay until after the statutory period to file suit had passed. Some of those courts actually reversed themselves, stopping claims that would have otherwise gone forward.

Last September, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the issue, Chairman Patrick Leahy said overturning the ruling was necessary to allow courts to protect citizens’ civil rights. “Our courts are an essential mechanism to enforce the civil rights laws that Congress has passed – laws that protect women, the elderly, minorities, and the disabled,” Leahy said. “Those laws are reduced to hollow words on a page if judges issue rulings like the one rendered by the Supreme Court in Lilly Ledbetter’s case.”

See past coverage for the Ledbetter case and its effect here from Lawyers USA. (Sub. Req’d)