Post Gazett Review of The Office of Professional Responsibility
Created by the Justice Department in 1975, OPR investigates complaints lodged against Justice Department attorneys "involving violation of any standard imposed by law, applicable rules of professional conduct, or Department policy."
It also oversees internal investigations by the FBI and DEA. The U.S. Customs Department and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms have their own internal affairs sections.
OPR employs 19 attorneys — its staff was doubled after 1995 Senate hearings into disastrous confrontations by federal agents at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas.
The Justice Department in a statement Friday said the following changes have been made since Janet Reno was appointed attorney general in 1993: The OPR now conducts investigations as soon as it learns of misconduct accusations rather than waiting until after litigation ends; it completes investigations even if an attorney resigns or retires; it publicly discloses results of OPR probes "in certain cases"; and it files complaints with state bar associations against lawyers who make "bad-faith complaints" with OPR.
The Justice Department also said that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and FBI Offices of Professional Responsibilities have been reorganized and expanded.
The effectiveness of OPR in its fight against misconduct is nearly impossible to quantify.
The agency issues annual reports regarding its work, but no specific cases are discussed.
The Post-Gazette talked to nearly 200 people who had filed complaints with the OPR. Most of them said the agency simply wrote them a letter saying it found no basis for their complaints. A few said OPR told them it was taking action. None of the complainants ever learned what that action was.
The General Accounting Office in 1993 reported a troubling pattern in 59 cases the GAO had monitored as the result of a 1992 audit of OPR.
It found OPR sometimes closed cases before doing basic investigative work like contacting other Justice Department agencies who were involved in the probes that led to complaints.
"Although OPR is responsible for helping to ensure that Justice employees uphold high ethical standards, OPR did not ask for or expect ... a response from (other Justice Department entities) concerning its investigative outcome," the GAO said.
Marvin Miller, who has served as chairman of the ethics caucus of the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, said the problem is a simple one: "The government will not prosecute its own.