U.S. House of Representatives

Committee on the Judiciary

F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., Chairman

News Advisory

For immediate release Contact: Jeff Lungren/ Terry Shawn

February 20, 2001 (202) 225-2492

GAO Report Finds Significant Problems with Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility

Sensenbrenner/Hyde/Delahunt Send Letter to A.G. Ashcroft Requesting Follow-up on Problems Identified

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The U.S. General Accounting Office ("GAO") today released a report detailing significant problems with the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility ("OPR"). Today's report follows up an earlier GAO report Department of Justice: Information on the Office of Professional Responsibility's Operations, (GAO/GGD-00-187, Aug. 14, 2000) on OPR, the federal entity responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct involving Justice attorneys. If misconduct is found, OPR refers the matter to applicable state bar associations, in addition to making disciplinary recommendations to the appropriate Justice official.

As a result of today's report, House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., (R-WI), and Reps. Henry Hyde (R-IL) and William Delahunt (D-MA) sent a letter today to Attorney General John Ashcroft detailing their concerns with the GAO's findings and requesting that OPR provide further information about the troubling issues uncovered.

Chairman Sensenbrenner said, "The public has a right to demand the highest ethical standards for its public servants, particularly those acting on their behalf in the legal system. Unfortunately, today's report indicates the OPR's procedures fall short of ensuring accountability for attorneys who commit ethics violations and ensuring public transparency of the process. Both areas are critical in maintaining integrity and public confidence in a self-regulating profession."

During the last Congress, Reps. Hyde and Delahunt had requested the GAO review the operations of OPR. This request was due to numerous concerns raised about the professionalism and conduct of certain Justice attorneys over the past several years and the process for holding them accountable.

The GAO reported today that OPR does not have a standard procedure for following up with state bar associations to determine what actions, if any, the associations took in response to OPR's findings of misconduct by Justice attorneys. In essence, the Justice Department has no process for knowing if an attorney's license has been suspended or revoked as a consequence of a referral for an ethics violation.

Additionally, the report outlined several OPR recommendations to terminate several Justice attorneys after the completion of an OPR investigation; however, some of these attorneys later were appointed as Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys. Also, many cases were earmarked to be referred to state bar associations but were not.

"The power wielded by federal prosecutors is enormous. With its vast resources, the Department of Justice may take away one's life, liberty and property. Unfortunately, some prosecutors can go too far in pursuing their targets and commit ethics violations along the way. Since the Office of Professional Responsibility is charged with internal oversight of federal prosecutorial action, it must be diligent in deterring unethical conduct as well as providing a disciplinary remedy for it. In light of the GAO's reports, I am concerned that the current process at OPR may not provide a meaningful mechanism for disciplining unethical conduct, which erodes the integrity and public's confidence of a self-policing profession. I think it is absolutely necessary to restore respect for the rule of law and there's no better place to begin that the Department of Justice," said Rep. Hyde.

"As a former district attorney, I know the awesome power that prosecutors wield in our society. When they abuse that power they must be held to account, so that the American people will have confidence in the integrity of the justice system," Rep. Delahunt said. "I look forward to continuing to work with my Judiciary Committee colleagues and the Department of Justice itself to ensure that the problems documented by this report are addressed, that those who enforce the laws are held to the highest ethical standards, and that complaints of misconduct by government attorneys are handled in a manner that is thorough, fair, expeditious and transparent."

The Members' letter to Attorney General Ashcroft is attached.

GAO posts their reports to the web at



February 20, 2001

The Honorable John D. Ashcroft

Attorney General

United States Department of Justice

Washington, D.C. 20530

Dear Attorney General Ashcroft:

We write with regard to an addendum report being released today by the General Accounting Office following up on, Department of Justice: Information on the Office of Professional Responsibility's Operations (GAO/GGD-00-187, Aug. 14, 2000). These reports were requested by Chairman Hyde and Representative Delahunt in light of numerous concerns raised about the process for holding the Department's attorneys accountable to ethical standards. As you know, the Office of Professional Responsibility ("OPR") investigates complaints about Department attorneys and refers findings of misconduct to state bars, in addition to making disciplinary recommendations to the appropriate Department official.

Today's report presents several items of concern to the Judiciary Committee. We therefore request the following information:

1. It appears that OPR fails to maintain a procedure for ascertaining dispositive actions taken by state bars against attorneys for whom discipline is taken. How does the Department know that an attorney's license has not been suspended or revoked as a result of its referral?

2. It appears that OPR only reports 'intentional professional misconduct' to state bars. For those states that promulgate discipline for less than 'intentional professional misconduct', why does OPR not refer that conduct to the state bar?

3. It appears that in some instances, attorneys who committed intentional misconduct were not disciplined, but were rewarded appointments as Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys rather than to face termination as recommended. What is the justification for this?

Because numerous specific questions remain concerning individual cases, we have enclosed a separate list of questions that we ask be directed to OPR seeking detailed answers and a staff briefing. It is our hope to work with you toward improving the integrity of the process of

Attorney General John Ashcroft

February 20, 2001

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investigating attorney misconduct and making the process more transparent. These are both critical in maintaining public confidence in a self-policing profession. We look forward to working with you on these very important objectives.





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