By Allan Lengel
Ex-Prosecutor Richard Convertino
WASHINGTON – The Justice Department won a legal battle against one of its own.
A D.C. federal judge on Thursday dismissed a whistleblower lawsuit by ex-Detroit federal prosecutor Richard Convertino against the Justice Department. The lawsuit alleged that the Justice leaked damaging information about an internal Justice probe into Convertino.
U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth ruled that Convertino, after seven years, had failed to show that a Justice Department employee had leaked to Detroit Free Press reporter David Ashenfelter information about a Justice Department Office of Professional Responsibility Probe into Covertino’s actions during a high-profile terrorism case. Ashenfelter published a story about the probe.
The ruling was first reported in the Detroit News.
“Despite seven years of dedicated effort, Convertino is no closer to identifying the source(s) of the leak today than he was when this litigation commenced,” the judge wrote in a ruling.
“In sum, Convertino has made a monumental effort to identify Ashenfelter’s source(s) and has had absolutely no success. Moreover, OIG (Office of Inspector General) conducted its own extensive investigation into the identity of the source(s) and was equally unsuccessful. After seven years of litigation, then, Convertino cannot answer the question that lies at the heart of [his] case.”
“Without knowledge of the leaker’s identity, Convertino cannot establish that DOJ acted willfully or intentionally,” the ruling said.
Convertino convicted three people who were suspected of being part of a terrorist sleeper cell in Detroit. They were arrested right after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, and the case became national news.
In fact, then-Attorney Gen. John Ashcroft mistakenly said initially that the men had prior knowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks. He later corrected the misstatement.
But the convictions were overturned and he was criminally charged with misconduct in the case. He was eventually acquitted. The entire case created serious tensions in the Detroit U.S. Attorney’s Office.
During the course of his whistleblower lawsuit, Convertino deposed Ashenfelter, a Pulitzer prize winning reporter, but failed to get him to disclose his source.
Convertino continually insisted during the lawsuit that a particular assistant U.S. Attorney had leaked the info to the Free Press. But an internal Justice Department probe failed to confirm that.
Herschel Fink, attorney for the Free Press, told Free Press reporter Joe Swickard that the decision was “a very good development for journalism … and the ability for a journalist to protect his sources.”
The Free Press said Convertino, who is in private practice, did not return calls for comment.