Rewarding Misbehavior with Presidential Nominations

So how does President Obama treat a political appointee who may have helped suborn perjury, obstruct an investigation, and make law enforcement decisions based on politics? By nominating him to a higher (but equally sensitive) political job, of course. Instead of being asked some tough questions, Leon Rodriguez is on track to be the administrator of the Wage and Hour Division at the U.S. Department of Labor.

Rodriguez is no stranger to controversy. He is the former county attorney for Montgomery County, Maryland, where, according to the Washington Post, he was accused in 2008 of authorizing the search of the computer and phone records of a council member and her senior legislative aide without their permission. Prior to that, he served from 1997 to 2001 as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Pittsburgh, where he functioned as the chief of staff for the U.S. Attorney appointed by Bill Clinton, Harry Litman.

In January 2010, Rodriguez was given a political appointment to the scandal-plagued Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, where he is the Deputy Assistant Attorney General and chief of staff for Thomas Perez, the fiercely partisan Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights.

Rodriguez’s stints as an Assistant U.S. Attorney and in the Civil Rights Division have nothing to do with enforcement of federal labor laws. Since that is the responsibility of the administrator of the Wage & Hour Division, a basic question arises about his lack of serious qualifications for this post, other than his active help and assistance in the cover-up of the misdeeds of the Civil Rights Division.

Those who have followed the wrongful dismissal of the New Black Panther Party voter-intimidation case are well aware of the political machinations behind the handling of this case and the unprecedented stonewalling of subpoenas and requests for information from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and Congress. The Civil Rights Division’s misdeeds are outlined in the Interim Report recently released by the Commission on Civil Rights, which investigated this matter for more than 18 months. The biggest hallmark of that investigation was the Commission’s discovery of a deep-seated hostility in the Division to race-neutral enforcement of the Voting Rights Act and the implementation by political appointees of a policy strongly discouraging (if not outright prohibiting) the enforcement of voting rights laws against minority defendants, no matter how egregious the violation.

But the Commission’s investigation was also frustrated by the unlawful refusal of the Civil Rights Division to turn over information and documentation to the Commission. This despite the Division’s statutory obligation to “cooperate fully” in the investigation, as well as its lawless refusal to comply with subpoenas issued by the Commission. The Commission’s Report castigates the Division for its actions, including its assertion of vague, unjustified and non-existent privileges. Given the months of exchanges between the Division and the Commission and the national attention that generated front-page new stories in the Washington Times and belatedly the Washington Post, it is difficult to imagine that the Assistant Attorney General’s chief of staff, Leon Rodriguez, had no involvement in directing the Division’s unprofessional, unethical and illegal refusal to comply with the Commission’s attempt to investigate this matter.

What is even more damaging is Rodriguez’s violations of basic rules of professional conduct, including the possible involvement and assistance with the perjury of his boss, Thomas Perez. As a former county counsel in Maryland, Rodriguez is presumably licensed as an attorney in that state. Rule 3.3 of the Maryland Lawyer’s Rules of Professional Conduct (as well as the bar rules of all states) requires candor towards a tribunal, which includes not making false statements of fact or law, or failing to correct a false statement of material fact or law. Rodriguez did not testify before the Civil Rights Commission, but his boss Perez did, and the subsequent testimony of other witnesses strongly suggests that Perez knowingly lied in his testimony.