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The PJ Tatler

by
Hans A. von Spakovsky

Bio

August 19, 2011 - 3:44 pm

Last week PJ Media reported on the liberal ideologues hired in the Special Litigation Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.  This week provided a good example of how they can force local and state authorities to waste lots of taxpayer dollars and land the Department in a lot of trouble.

The example features Alyssa Lareau, one of the lawyers highlighted in the Pajamas article.  She came to Justice from the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.  She had also volunteered for the ABA’s Detention Standards Implementation Initiative, which attacked the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security for not providing sufficiently luxurious detention facilities for illegal aliens.

Flash forward to today.  Lareau is one of the Division attorneys who filed a complaint against Erie County, New York, making numerous claims that prisoners in the local county jail were being deprived of constitutional rights.

Erie County decided to fight DOJ rather than just roll over, which is what too many local jurisdictions do even when they have not done anything wrong.

A person involved in the case told me that the SLS lawyers used a ruse to get access to inmates.  They had U.S. Marshalls falsely claim that federal inmates being held at the Erie County jail were required to appear in court.  In fact, they took the inmates to meet with SLS attorneys to interview them about the conditions at the jail.

All of these inmates have counselors of record, yet none was present at the SLS interviews.  Indeed, none of the inmates knew the real reason why the Marshalls had removed them from jail until they arrived at the meeting with the SLS lawyers.  Speaking to an individual who is represented by counsel without that counsel being present is a per se violation of the professional codes of conduct governing lawyers.  That didn’t dissuade the SLS lawyers, however.

Now the Buffalo News reports that Justice has agreed to settle the case and dismiss the lawsuit.

DOJ may have agreed to settle for reasons beyond the unethical behavior of its lawyers.  The court had issued an order saying that Justice was “misreading” the applicable statute when it tried to claim the county could be found vicariously liable for conditions at the jail.  “There is no support for this proposition in the statute or caselaw,” the court observed.

Erie County Executive Chris Collins hailed the settlement as a victory because “the county government will not have to implement expensive and unnecessary improvements in inmate care” that SLS had demanded in its lawsuit.  The settlement agreement requires Erie County to inform the Justice Department of any improvements it makes in its prison facility, but the “Justice Department will not be able to reject or affect the changes,” Collins noted.

This is clearly a major loss for the Special Litigation Section.  It would never enter an agreement giving DOJ no say-so over changes made in the county’s prison facilities unless the Department knew it could not prove its case in court.

As Collins told the Buffalo News, Justice “went to court and made serious allegations against Erie County, presenting them as fact.  Now, after many months of discovery, the [Justice Department] could never provide proof to legitimize its allegations of civil rights violations.”

But then, that’s par for the course.  The Special Litigation Section has a history of bringing unjustified, unwarranted, and frivolous claims.  Considering its most recent hires, that record will probably just get worse.

Hans A. von Spakovsky is a Senior Legal Fellow at The Heritage Foundation and a former counsel to the assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Justice Department. He is the coauthor of the book “Who’s Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk”.
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