Site Search

Entire (RSS)
Comments (RSS)

Archive Calendar

June 2021


How to Become a Bounty Hunter


In 2011 it’s Time to Stop “Acting” and Confirm Leaders

Michele Leonhart

By Allan Lengel

WASHINGTON — Something seems terribly wrong when we see federal law enforcement agencies headed up for years by people who are “acting” heads.

Michele Leonhart of the DEA was the acting head since 2007 — up until the end of December.  Finally, just before the holidays, the Senate confirmed her appointment as the DEA administrator.  Sorry, but that’s  way way too long to have an acting head of any agency.

And now we have to wait for the appointment of a number two person at DEA, which requires Senate approval as well.

At ATF, Kenneth Melson has been acting head since April 2009. It’s now 2011. Just recently President Obama nominated Andrew Traver of the Chicago ATF office to head up that agency. Who knows how long that will take for the Senate to decide his fate?

Elsewhere, two years into the Obama administration, only 76 U.S. Attorneys have been confirmed. There are 94 U.S. Attorney offices. And to boot, there are plenty of federal judicial seats that remain vacant.

It’s 2011. It’s time to step it up. The Obama administration needs to step it up. The Senate needs to step it up.  Whatever the reason for the delays — the political bickering, procrastination —   it needs to stop.

The American people are getting screwed. Organizations need permanent heads.  “Acting” heads seldom have the same juice, the same influence needed to make an organization operate at peak efficiency.

Sure there are plenty of other things weighing on the minds of the White House and Congress.  A dearth of jobs. A wimpering economy.  Afghanistan. Iraq. On and on and on.

But last I checked, the American people cared about fraud and scams and  murder and gun trafficking to Mexico and terrorism. Liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, black or white,  Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim or Hindu,  lover of Sarah Palin or  hater of Sarah Palin,  meat eater or vegetarian, it’s fair to say these people care about quality of life issues. They want to be protected from the Madoffs and the bin Ladins and the deadly Mexican cartels.

The White House and Congress need to step on the gas and get to where they need to go.


U.S. Attys and AUSAs in Michigan Have Played Key Roles in Shaping “Rule of Law”

The “rule of law”—What does it mean?

For most of history since its origin in ancient Greece it has meant that the law, however it was created, rules events and relationships not the whim of the sovereign or the government.

But in this country rule of law has evolved through a gradual building process to encompass more than that—equality and certainty in enforcement and the fair and impartial adjudication of rights and liabilities.

The federal courts and the USAOs have had an unrecognized role in this process.

Today I would like to give you just a few examples of USAs and their Assistants and their contributions.

Solomon Sibley was the first USA.

In 1805 the village of Detroit burned to the ground. Sibley was the first mayor. Perhaps where we are

today he walked amidst the smoking rubble and thought as one of 3-4 lawyers in the whole Michigan Territory, surrounded by swamps and wilderness, will this place ever amount to anything?

Practicing law out of your saddlebag with almost no roads was a difficult job and his path in legal matters was also a challenge. He had a couple books on English common law and every few months he could read in Eastern newspapers the legislation Congress had passed. Lawyers were expected to use what little they had to make reasoned arguments to the territorial judges in the Common House at least until it too burned to the ground.

For much of the 19th Century, the U. S. Attorneys were almost entirely on their own, with little advice from Washington. There was no Justice Department until 1870.

There were no organized federal law enforcement investigators until late in the century. There was no codified federal criminal or civil law.

As each new wave of immigrants surged across the borders, not only did these pioneers bring their own expectations for the rule of law from other states and countries, but they also wanted the law to adapt to serve the needs of frontier life. Case by case, issue by issue, the litigants and the courts constructed the foundation of the intricate rule of law we enjoy today.

George C. Bates

George C. Bates was the fifth U. S. Attorney for the District of Michigan and he served in the 1840s and 50s. Bates had great energy and perseverance during a time of change in the district.

Cheap land brought tens of thousands of farmers and tradesmen to Michigan from the Northeast as well as

every country in Western Europe. Transportation and communication were revolutionized by such developments as the telegraph, daily newspapers, faster mail service, railroads and steamships.

The growing pains from these changes swelled the federal court caseloads to the breaking point.

Bates headed an expedition to the Upper Peninsula to retrieve a huge piece of pure copper which was being used as a religious object by the Chippewa Tribe.

Bates secured the revenue cutter Erie to accompany the rock through the Erie Canal to Washington, D.C. where it was exhibited in the Smithsonian Museum.

Bates lost his most famous case, the prosecution for counterfeiting and fraud of James Jesse “King” Strang, a Mormon leader living with his followers on Beaver Island.

Strang had declared himself God’s Viceroy on Earth. Bates led a team of Marines on the USS Michigan, the Navy’s first iron-hulled warship, from Detroit to Mackinac to arrest Strang and several others. The trial was a national media circus.

Strang, arguing religious persecution, represented himself and the other defendants and the jury acquitted all of the defendants.

Whatever his prowess in the courtroom, no one could doubt Bates’ pioneer lawyer spirit. After completing his term, he moved to California to practice law, then to Chicago where his law practice was destroyed by the Great Chicago Fire.

Almost broke, he became the territorial U.S. Attorney in Utah where he attempted with limited success to prosecute Brigham Young and his followers for polygamy.

The effort, however, contributed to the Church’s eventual realization that the practice would have to be eliminated before Congress would approve Utah for statehood.

Henry Billings Brown and Frank Murphy

Two members of the U. S. Attorney’s Office have become Supreme Court Justices, Henry Billings Brown and Frank Murphy. In 1860 Brown became the first Assistant U. S. Attorney in the district and he developed into a national expert in admiralty and patent law.

Unfortunately, he will always be remembered for his opinion in Plessey v. Ferguson, in which the Court upheld the separate but equal doctrine of racial segregation.

Frank Murphy’s tenure as an Assistant (1919-1921) left a lasting impact which affected him throughout his judicial career. As a trial attorney he learned the devastating effects a criminal prosecution could

have on a defendant and his family but he aggressively pursued violent and professional criminal.

On the Supreme Court Justice Murphy’s opinions on labor relations and constitutional rights made significant contributions to the law.

Prohibition U. S. Attorneys

The six U. S. Attorneys and the dozen Assistants who served during Prohibition (1920-1932) deserve more than the glancing treatment possible in this speech.

Prohibition was not only a failed social experiment but one which had significant and lasting negative consequences for the nation, including massive court congestion, delayed access to the courts by other litigation, pervasive violation of the law and corruption.

Nowhere in the nation were these consequences more evident than in the Eastern District of Michigan where more than a quarter of the national enforcement budget was spent. During Prohibition Detroit went from having 1,250 bars to over 10,000. The federal district court’s annual caseload skyrocketed from about 300 to almost 3,000 cases.

Although the federal criminal justice system was not perfect during this deluge of cases and rampant crime, the Herculean efforts of Judge (and former U. S. Attorney) Arthur Tuttle and the attorneys in

the U. S. Attorney’s Office kept the system from breaking down completely.

They prosecuted corrupt law enforcement and public officials, processed the flood of cases which inundated the court, and contended with the lack of public cooperation as best they could.

The ordeal did have some positive results. Many of the office management reforms they used and the development of specialized law enforcement agencies with training and modern methods, continued after Prohibition.

John C. Lehr

The longest serving U. S. Attorney in the district was John C. Lehr. He began his term in 1936 by supporting President Franklin Roosevelt’s response to the economic crisis brought on by the Depression.

Dozens of new federal programs were instituted, and hundreds of thousands of people from Michigan participated in public works programs.

This change in the role of the federal government, particularly the Executive Branch, in American life resulted in a steady increase in litigation in federal courts. The agencies established during this period not only became a powerful force for proactive government, but also introduced modern methods of administration.

One of the reforms which changed the duties and procedures of both of these offices was the independent management of the affairs of the judiciary. The federal courts had for more than a century been assigned to the Justice Department. This was an awkward relationship. Finally Congress created the Administrative Office of U. S. Courts.

In September of 1940 shortly after Germany invaded France, Congress passed the first peacetime draft in the nation’s history. Michigan’s contribution to the industrial mobilization was so significant that it was called the ”Arsenal of Democracy.”

About ten per cent of the nation’s war spending occurred in Detroit, where 610,000 people worked in factories producing war materials. This economic boom resulted in inadequate housing, school and transportation systems, along with overt racism which culminated in mob violence in June, 1942.

John Lehr’s most personally stressful cases were a pair of capital prosecutions which brought the death penalty to Michigan for the first time since 1830. Anthony Chebatoris was the first person in the United States to be tried under the new statute for bank robbery homicide.

Chebatoris shot and killed a man in a delivery uniform because he mistook him for a police officer. As he and his partner were escaping, a dentist was drilling on a person’s teeth, he hears the commotion and sees them running down the street. The dentist grabs his rifle and through his 2nd floor window shoots dead Chebatoris’ partner.

In closing Lehr called the defendant a “brutal, ruthless killer, a sly. sneaking human beast.” The defense argued that capital punishment was a relic of the Middle Ages.

After eight hours of deliberation, the jury found Chebatoris guilty and set the punishment at death.

Under federal law an execution had to take place in the state where the crime had occurred if the state had the death penalty.

Although Michigan had abolished capital punishment for murder, until 1963 the penalty was still available for treason so the condition for the state’s venue was met and Chebatoris was hanged at the U. S. Detention Farm at Milan.

The second capital case was the prosecution in 1942 of Max Stephan, a Detroit restaurant owner, who was tried in Chief Judge Tuttle’s courtroom for treason, based on his assistance of a Nazi pilot who had escaped from a Canadian prisoner-of-war camp. At trial the government’s primary witness was Oberlieutenant Hans Peter Krug of the German Air Force. Krug strutted into the courtroom wearing his German uniform and gave the Nazi salute before testifying.

Lehr’s evidence was that Stephan had provided Krug with clothes and had gone drinking with him, ending the evening at a brothel. The next day he bought Krug a bus ticket to Chicago and took him to the station. Lehr argued that Stephan was a “blackhearted traitor if there ever was one” and the jury agreed. Judge Tuttle sentenced Stephan to death but twelve hours before the hanging was scheduled, President Roosevelt granted a request for a reprieve.

The Office’s responsibilities included several hundred Selective Service cases, the Enemy Alien Hearing

Board, military land condemnations, and other litigation in support of the war effort. By 1947 when John Lehr left the Office, both it and the district court had changed significantly.

Both offices now relied on support staff members, as well as the Clerk’s Office, to process cases efficiently.

Civil cases had increased considerably, and they demanded more time and resources from both offices.

In the criminal cases federal law enforcement agencies had expanded both in terms of the number of agents and the scope of their responsibilities.

William Merrill

William Merrill was the Chief Assistant U. S. Attorney in the 1960s under U.S. Attorney Lawrence Gubow (1961-1968). At that time southeastern Michigan was one of the most dynamic metropolitan areas in the country.

The dawning consciousness of idealism clashed with the reality of racial discrimination, poverty, and the Vietnam War. This collision meant plenty of subjects for federal litigation.

The Federal Defender’s Office, Magistrate Judges, four additional federal district judgeships—all occurred during this dynamic period. The U. S. Attorney’s Office ended 129 years of complete nondiversity with the hiring as Assistant U. S. Attorneys of three remarkable women, who would become trailblazers in breaking gender and racial barriers in the legal community as outstanding jurists, Patricia Boyle, Anna Diggs Taylor, and Geraldine Bledsoe Ford.

Merrill and Gubow also modernized the way the Office functioned: de-politicization, category specialization, the beginning of proactive investigations. The realization that drug trafficking would be the dominant federal crime for the indefinite future meant, for the first time, a significant investment of prosecution resources.

With Richard Nixon’s election, the change in administrations meant Merrill had to leave the Office.

He joined a firm in Grand Rapids as a litigator.

Ironically, Merrill would contribute to forcing Nixon to become the first American President to resign from office. The period would pose perhaps the greatest threat to the rule of law faced by the country in the 20th Century.

The White House ordered federal law enforcement to greatly expand domestic surveillance, but the President and his advisors concluded that an even more aggressive effort was needed to stifle dissent. This effort included the creation of a Special Investigations Unit group which came to be known as the Plumbers Unit because its objective was to stop information leaks by whatever means were necessary.

The first target of the White House Plumbers Unit was anti-war activist Daniel Ellsberg, who was under indictment for leaking the Pentagon Papers, a top secret study of the Vietnam War. President Nixon was said to be obsessed with discrediting Ellsberg in order to silence him and to assure his conviction.

During Labor Day weekend of 1971, under the direction of the President’s top economic advisor, John Ehrlichman, and the involvement of other White House officials, five men broke into the office of Ellsberg’s Beverly Hills psychiatrist, Dr. Lewis Fielding, to obtain damaging files on Ellsberg which could be used to discredit him.

About a year later, after the related Watergate burglary into the offices of the National Democratic Party headquarters, these events began to be the subject of media reports. Archibald Cox was appointed as Special Prosecutor. Cox chose William Merrill to direct the grand jury investigation and the prosecution of the Fielding break-in.

Although it eventually became less identifiable by the public than the Watergate case, the Fielding office case actually became the key to dismantling the Watergate scandal. The case resulted in the convictions of Ehrlichman, Charles Colson, G. Gordon Liddy and others who orchestrated the break-in.

During the investigation, Merrill faced many challenges to his grand jury investigation. A sizeable segment of the American public believed that the investigation was part of an anti-Nixon vendetta.

Nixon ordered that Cox be fired because he tried to subpoena the White House for records and tape recordings and two Attorneys General refused and resigned. After Cox’s removal was finally accomplished, it was Merrill who convinced other Assistant Special Prosecutors to remain on the job rather than resign in protest. On orders from the White House, the FBI raided the Special Prosecutor’s office, but Merrill had feared such an action and had hidden key memos essential to the investigation in a safe deposit box.

Merrill and his Assistants were ultimately successful in convicting after a trial the break-in planners andoperators. Merrill’s dedication was instrumental in ending a dark chapter of abusive actions in disregard of the law and in helping to restore integrity and public confidence in the principle that no one is above the law.

James K. Robinson

In many ways the form and function of the present day U. S. Attorney’s Office was molded during the term of Jim Robinson (1977-1980). He changed the Office in many ways that still remain today.

He re-organized the Office into Criminal, Civil, and Appellate Divisions. The Criminal Division was further divided into General Crimes, Economic Crimes and Controlled Substances Units. He formulated its press policy to conform to stricter ethical standards, established Prosecution guidelines, a pre-trial diversion program, and a Federal-State Law Enforcement Committee.

During this time period the nature of federal [rosecutions in the district was gradually changing. Drug cases evolved from high volume “buy-bust” investigations to an emphasis on “kingpin” traffickers.

Other priorities were focused on cases involving federal program fraud, political corruption and organized crime. One of the most significant of Robinson’s changes was the way investigations were selected for prosecution.

By selecting significant cases and those in areas of higher priory, federal law enforcement had a greater impact on crime problems. The objective of these changes was to meet the increased sophistication of professional criminals. This same approach continues to this day.

Perhaps Robinson’s most significant contribution was to improve the atmosphere in the workplace.

No longer was it a place where recent law school graduates went for a couple years to polish their lawyering skills.

Instead, many became career prosecutors who intended to stay on the job until retirement. Their entire perspective changed, therefore, to become more professional and long term in outlook. Training, management, and specialization became more important aspects of the Office’s mission.

Jim Robinson went on to make contributions to the progressive evolution of the law in many fields, including as a civil litigator, a law school professor and Dean, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Criminal Division, a bar association leader.

As Chairperson of the Michigan Supreme Court Committee on the Rules of Evidence, he helped modernize and codify the evidentiary rules litigators continue to use.

He was a prolific author on Evidence and a wide variety of topics.


What have the United States Attorneys and their assistants and staff members contributed to the development of the rule of law in this country?

In the countless legal and factual decisions made by federal prosecutors during the 195 years the Office has existed in this district, the net effect of their efforts has been to protect the principle that every individual has a right to fair procedures and a meaningful day in court based on the law of this nation. With few exceptions, they have been independent, free from bias and have sought to do “what is right” in their cases.

The fine tuning of the rule of law is a continuing process. Justice Cardozo explained that justice is a concept which is never finished but reproduces itself generation after generation in ever changing forms.

From its austere and modest beginnings to the modern law office it is today, this process of rebirth has been the legacy of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan.

U.S. Attys Rip Off Taxpayers With Expensive Hotel Rooms

Christopher Christie/campaign photo

UPDATE: The LA Times reports that another former U.S. Attorney Thomas O’Brien of Los Angeles wrote a check Tuesday reimbursing the government for more than $900 in overages for hotels.  Former U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan of Pittsburgh was also identified in the media as one of the five  violators cited in the Inspector General report.

WASHINGTON — The words “offensive” and “disgusting” and “criminal” best describe the findings of a Justice Department Inspector General report this week which found that five U.S. Attorneys stuck taxpayers with hefty hotel bills.

In other words, they went far beyond the allotted allowance for rooms.

And the worst offender, the report said, was the New Jersey U.S. Attorney Chris Christie — who is now the state’s governor — who has crusaded against corruption. This sounds rather corrupt to me.

He was U.S. Attorney from 2002 to 2008.

“After reviewing the travel documents and interviewing the U.S. Attorney’s secretary, we found insufficient justification for exceeding the government rate with respect to 14 of the 15 trips,” the report said of Christie.

“These 14 vouchers exceeded the government rate by $19 to $242 per night, for a total of $2,176 (excluding taxes for domestic travel). U.S. Attorney C’s lodging costs exceeded the government rate by more than $100 per night on 9 of the 14 vouchers.”

The report said Christie — considered a rising star in the Republican party – stayed at the Nine Zero Hotel in Boston for $449 per night and the $475-per-night Four Seasons Hotel in Washington at a cost of more than double the government rate for those cities.

Guess what. Go to Orbitz right now. Punch in hotels for  Boston and Washington.

The St. Gregory Luxury Hotel at 20th and M Streets NW in D.C. — a pretty darn nice neighborhood and a four-star hotel — is going this week for $211 a night. And guess what, it’s right near a Four Seasons Hotel where Christie spent $475 a night. And the five-star Langham hotel in Boston is going for $257 a night — far less than the $449 a night he spent at the Nine Zero Hotel.

Christie’s press secretary did not return a call when I called for comment. Not surprising.  There’s no justification for ripping off the taxpayers.

What Christie and the other four U.S. Attorneys need to do is take out a check book and reimburse the taxpayers. They also need to remember, while they’re presidential appointees, they are not the PRESIDENT. They can stay at an Embassy Suites or a Hilton.

It’s all about doing the right thing.

al Qaeda’s Gift to the U.S.: Incompetence

By Allan Lengel

WASHINGTON — Al Qaeda and its associates may not be known as benevolent organizations, but they do give gifts.

The failed “Underwear Bomber”. The failed “Times Square Bomber”. The failed “Shoe Bomber”. And now the failed attempt to deliver explosives on  planes. All gifts.

The U.S. should be grateful for these opportunities in which no one gets hurt, but we learn about the shortcomings in our system.  (Unfortunately, we now learn this latest bid was one of the more competent efforts that failed).

Too bad there’s not a better way to figure it out the flaws. And we can’t forever count on the al Qaeda B Team carrying out these incompetent missions.

So, let’s learn from the incidence, but let’s get more aggressive about  examining our transportation systems.  Obviously, there are plenty holes to plug.

Let’s not wait for al Qaeda to get lucky

President Obama’s Comments Unfortunately May Reflect Attitude Toward DEA

By Allan Lengel

WASHINGTON — President Obama is a busy guy with a lot of worries. So he might be excused when he commits a little Washington faux pas as he did last week during a town hall meeting with young people.

While discussing  “federal drug enforcement”, he mentioned the Justice Department and FBI, but not the  DEA,the lead agency in the war on drugs.

“We have to figure out who is it we’re going after because we’ve got limited resources,” he said. “So decisions that are made by the Justice Department or FBI about prosecuting drug kingpins versus somebody with some small amount, those decisions are made based on how can we best enforce the laws that are on the books.”

In many ways, it was not a big deal. But the comment rubbed some folks at DEA the wrong way. Plus, agents felt it was reflective of the administration’s overall attitude toward the DEA.

“I don’t think he’s given any thought to the DEA,” one agent told me. “We’ve become an afterthought, the stepchild when it comes to the FBI and Justice Department.”

So frankly, you can’t be totally dismissive of those sentiments.

For one, Michele Leonhart, the acting head of the agency, was nominated by the president in February, but has yet to be confirmed. To boot, she’s been acting head of the agency since 2007.  The absence of a confirmation is unsettling for some in the agency.

With Mexico raging out of control, and  the cartels tentacles reaching far into the U.S., the DEA may not be   the agency the administration wants to short change — and that also means when it comes to giving a shoutout publicly about federal drug law enforcement.

Steroids Had Plenty of Victims

The author (right) Greg Stejsal and Michigan coach Bo Schembechler

The author (right) Greg Stejsal and Michigan coach Bo Schembechler

By Greg Stejskal

“Say it ain’t so, Rocket.”

(“Say it ain’t so, Joe.” Reported words of a young fan to Shoeless Joe Jackson after the Black Sox gambling scandal.)

Roger Clemens may have lied under oath in front of a Congressional committee regarding the use of steroids during his baseball career, but so what? Couldn’t our prosecutorial resources be used for more important things?

In the late 1980s and early 90s, as an FBI agent (now retired), who helped shepherd the largest steroid investigation in history, similar questions were posed to me. Why should we pursue the illegal distribution of steroids?

In 1989, University of Michigan head football coach Bo Schembechler and his strength coach, Mike Gittleson, shared a big concern.

They believed steroid use was becoming pervasive in college football. Their concern was not only that some players and teams were getting a competitive advantage but that high school players were beginning to think that steroid use was a necessary and accepted practice in getting to the next level.

Bo and Mike knew that steroids were an effective performance-enhancing drug, but could also cause very serious health problems. Not the least of these is severe depression. I learned of numerous cases of young, aspiring athletes who committed suicide after using steroids. (One of those suicides was the son of an FBI agent I knew.) I also thought of my own daughter and son, who, at the time, were beginning to participate in sports. Would they be faced with the choice of having to use steroids in order to reach their athletic goals?

Many believe steroid use is a victim-less crime. It’s not. Using steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) affect the very integrity of the sport in which they are used. I see three sets of victims. The first is the players who choose to remain clean but must compete against the “enhanced” players. The other victims are aspiring athletes who use PEDs to continue pursuing their sport, or become disillusioned and quit. The third victim is the fan – more on that just ahead.

When we began our steroid investigation, dubbed Operation Equine, our goal was to pursue the steroid dealers, not the users. We reasoned prosecutors would have little interest in going after users whether they be gym rats or professional athletes. However, in retrospect, perhaps the only way to snag the media’s attention would have been to arrest celebrity athletes. We were also stunned when Major League Baseball stifled a yawn when presented with facts about all their “juiced” players.

Our investigative team was faced with a quandary when one of the dealers we arrested told us he had been supplying Jose Canseco and other members of the then Oakland A’s. (Later we learned one of those A’s was Mark McGwire.) No doubt, these are headline-generating names. For the reasons outlined above, we chose to pursue this dealer’s suppliers, not the star players/users.

It was way back in 1994 that information about the players’ use of steroids was given to the office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball. It was ignored for nearly a decade. Yes, nothing happened for nearly 10 years until Canseco himself became the messenger. (Ironically, the U.S. Attorney’s office in northern California didn’t deem steroid dealing a crime worthy of prosecution at the time. What might have happened had they prosecuted the Oakland A’s dealer there, the future home of BALCO?)

If Roger Clemens did use steroids, the ramifications were far greater than just a high profile athlete using a substance to enhance his performance. The past and future are forever altered. Here’s where the Fan as a Victim enters the picture. In baseball, perhaps more than in any other sport, you not only compete with your contemporaries but against players from the past through statistics. These statistical achievements have long been considered sacrosanct, the lifeblood of every baseball fanatic.

These numbers transcend generations of players and fans. Thus, the use of PEDs not only potentially alters the final score, but has, to some extent, destroyed the integrity of those precious stats. Maybe more importantly, when star athletes turn to PEDs, they inadvertently encourage the same behavior by young aspiring athletes who seek to emulate their heroes.

People may argue about whether Congress should be involved in these issues, but persons testifying in front of Congressional committees under oath must tell the truth. Or invoke the protection of the 5th Amendment. To do otherwise renders the whole process a farce.

Ironically, if Clemens had used steroids during his career and admitted it, he most likely wouldn’t have been prosecuted. However, he now faces a serious charge of perjury, and perhaps worse – a tarnished career that no stellar statistic can ever repair.

It goes beyond just saying it ain’t so.

Cheating Scandal Shows Human Side of FBI

By Allan Lengel

WASHINGTON — The FBI may be the nation’s premiere law enforcement agency — with a worldwide reputation — but in the end it’s made up of humans. And yes, humans do screw up.

Over the years, we saw a drunk agent shoot up a freezer at a Las Vegas hotel. We had an FBI agent arrested for shoplifting in suburban Washington. We had an off-duty agent in Texas shoot dead a neighbor’s Chihuahua. It happens. We don’t expect perfection. Individuals screw up.

But the latest scandal — cheating on an open book exam — is far more embarrassing than some individual screw up, than some agent gone rogue.  The bureau had training sessions on guidelines for conducting surveillances on Americans, and wanted to make sure everyone understood. So it gave open book exams on computers. Some took 20 minutes to finish the exam.  Those were the cheaters. Some agents who legitimately took the test took three or four hours.

There was widespread cheating, according to an Inspector General report. Some took the exam together, which was forbidden.  Many got hold of the answers. Cheat sheets circulated.

What ever the case, the big question is: How did this become so epidemic? Did the big guys at headquarters fall asleep at the switch or rely on managers who were part of the problem?  Or did they simply set up a test in which even some of the most honest folks felt it was ok to cheat on?

At the Washington Field Office, some of the top managers were part of the problem.  The head of the office, Joe Persichini Jr. and two of his special agents in charge got caught cheating.  Not a good sign of leadership. Persichini quit late last year before any discipline was meted out.  The other two are appealing their punishment — a 20 day unpaid suspension along with demotions.

The test has become a joke. And unfortunately, the laugh is on an agency that takes itself pretty darn seriously — as it should.

The bureau needs to be smarter next time around.

Ex-U.S. Atty. James K. Robinson Was “One of the Finest Lawyers of His Generation”

James K. Robinson

James K. Robinson

By Ross Parker

Every young lawyer remembers the guy who gave him his first real job. For me and some others, it was a mark of distinction that that guy was Jim Robinson.

His death last Friday from cancer evokes a painful loss but also many happy memories about a man who was one of the finest lawyers of his generation.

Although Jim’s long and successful career as a litigator, public servant, author and teacher included many of the highest achievements available in the legal profession, it was for many of us his term as a 34-year-old U.S. Attorney in Detroit which we remember most fondly.

During his three-year term from 1977 to 1980, he set a framework for the modern federal prosecutor’s office and inspired dozens of young lawyers along the way.

Jim re-organized and modernized the U.S. Attorney’s Office in ways that are still followed today in this and other districts around the country.

He convinced the Justice Department to let him hire several dozen new lawyers and support staff, and he filled the positions with a diverse group, including women, African Americans and former defense counsel, three groups which had been greatly under-represented.

He re-structured the office into Divisions and Units, re-formulated a press policy, established a pre-trial diversion program, and emphasized the need for continuing legal education.

He started a Federal-State Law Enforcement Committee, which still meets regularly thirty years later, to discuss common strategies and crime problems.

He re-defined the office’s prosecution policy and shifted from a volume approach to a selective policy of investing more resources in more culpable and insulated targets.

Jim also put more emphasis on civil enforcement, especially natural resources, tort defense, civil rights and combating fraud in federal programs. It was a sea change for the better.

Jim emphasized integrity at every functioning level. I remember a short interchange at one of those “Monday lunch” sessions he initiated, and it has stuck these thirty years.

Some of the Assistants were complaining about an instruction some of the district judges were then giving to trial jurors that they need not be concerned in reaching their verdict about whether the government wins or loses the case since the government always wins as long as justice is done.

Jim settled the matter, “Hey that is what we do, or try our best to do, what is right in every decision in every case, whatever our personal preferences. It’s not a contest and winning isn’t the objective.”

As a boss, Jim was a master of the personal touch not only because it was good management, but more because that was the kind of person he was. When a trial or appeal went well, you could expect him to stick his head in your door with some thumbs-up words of encouragement or to leave an “attaboy” note on your desk. I still have a couple of them.

When a forgivable error was made, Jim considered it a lesson learned, and I heard him quote more than once the words of W. Somerset Maugham, “Only a mediocre person is always at his best.”

I have found it useful after my kids’ sporting events. A loss after a hard fought effort by a disconsolate Assistant sometimes brought out Jim’s quotation of John Kennedy and Teddy Roosevelt about the credit belonging to the person in the arena, marred by dust and sweat and blood, who if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly not sitting with those cold and timid souls on the sidelines.

Boredom and cynicism had no place when Jim was around. Instead there was laughter, hard work and long hours. Work was meant to be fun, but no one ever said it was meant to be easy.

Above all there was an unspoken sense of job satisfaction, patriotism, and fulfillment in public service. Important principles, people’s lives and freedoms, and crucial decisions were on the daily agenda. But that didn’t prevent a practical joke on a colleague, and Jim was sometimes a facilitator.

After his tour as U.S. Attorney, Jim went on as a nationally known litigator and a sought after lecturer for advocacy programs.

He supervised the Justice Department’s Criminal Division under President Clinton in 1998. He was a law school Dean and professor, President of the Michigan Bar, drafter of the Michigan Rules of Evidence and prolific author of books and articles. The list of his positive contributions to the rule of law in Michigan and the country goes on and on.

But it is not this towering man of national achievement and recognition I remember most fondly.

It was a teacher who spent a couple hours explaining and working through some knotty hearsay exceptions with a panicking young prosecutor the night before a trial was to begin.

It was a charismatic young U. S. Attorney who managed with his sleeves rolled up, walking around implementing new plans and ideas, spreading confidence and energy to all of his colleagues.