From Law . com:
A former candidate for the Justice Department’s honors program is suing for $100,000 in damages, alleging Justice officials violated his rights and those of others when they brought political bias into vetting honors-program applications.
The class action by Sean Gerlich — filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia — is the first suit resulting from an internal Justice report issued last week that says two former Justice officials illegally screened applicants to the honors and summer intern programs.
The two officials were Esther Slater McDonald, then counsel to the associate attorney general and now an associate at Seyfarth Shaw, and Michael Elston, then chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty and now a partner at McGuireWoods.
Gerlich’s suit says the department politicized the selection process, mishandled the applications and failed to maintain the records, all in violation of the Privacy Act, the Civil Service Reform Act and the Federal Records Act. In addition, the suit claims violations of the First and 14th Amendments.
7 Jul 2008 // Washington, DC – Today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed bar complaints against former Department of Justice officials Michael J. Elston and Esther Slater McDonald. CREW based its complaint on the report recently released by the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office of Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility, An Investigation of Allegations of Politicized Hiring in the Department of Justice Honors Program and Summer Law Intern Program (DOJ Report).
Both Ms. McDonald and Mr. Elston rejected applicants who they believed to be liberal or who had worked for Democrats.
The Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit attorneys from engaging in conduct involving dishonesty and conduct that “seriously interferes with the administration of justice.”
From The Washington Post (Editorial):
NOWHERE IS the need for impartial, nonpartisan decision-making more important than at the Justice Department. […] These policies, however, were systematically shredded by some in the Bush administration’s Justice Department.
A recently released report by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility confirmed that in 2002 under Attorney General John D. Ashcroft and again in 2006 under Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales applicants for entry-level positions through the department’s honors and summer internship programs were weeded out based on their perceived liberal leanings. The report is one in a series that examines the alleged politicization of the department during the Bush administration.
In 2006 Mr. [Michael] Elston was chair of the three-member committee that screened applications for both programs; Ms. [Esther Slater] McDonald was a member, as was career prosecutor Daniel Fridman, who is praised in the report for reporting violations by Mr. Elston and Ms. McDonald.
How did these two sniff out political proclivities? According to the report, Ms. McDonald searched candidates’ applications for ” ‘leftist commentary and buzzwords’ such as ‘environmental justice,’ ‘social justice,’ ‘making policy,’ or ‘anything else that involves legislating rather than enforcing’ “; she also apparently punished membership in liberal organizations. The report faults Mr. Elston for failing to stop Ms. McDonald’s breaches and at times for using political markers to disqualify candidates on his own.
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