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.
How is Rodriguez implicated in Perez’s perjury? A source tells me that Rodriguez was present in the meeting that Perez had with the lawyers working on the New Black Panther Party case -- Robert Popper, Christian Adams and Chris Coates -- just two days prior to the testimony Perez gave before the Commission on May 14. In that meeting, Coates specifically laid out the details and particulars about the hostility by the Division’s new political leadership towards race-neutral enforcement of the voting rights laws.
Coates described how employees were unwilling to enforce the law against black defendants in voting cases and how political appointee Julie Fernandes had told the Voting Section staff that there would be no cases filed against minority defendants. Yet when Perez testified under oath before the Commission, he said that he had never heard about any such complaints. My source tells me that Rodriguez was taking notes during the briefing session.
In that case, Rodriguez was not only involved in the Division’s refusal to comply with the Commission’s investigation, he was aware that his boss misled and possibly perjured himself before a tribunal. Yet he has not taken “reasonable remedial measures” to correct the record or to notify the tribunal about the false statements made to the Commission.
Yes, Rodriguez is not the one who testified falsely. But any lawyer knows that if he is aware that a co-counsel on a case has perjured himself before a tribunal or misled a judge, he has an absolute obligation to correct the record and make the court aware of the problem. He is also obligated to notify the Office of Professional Responsibility at the Justice Department of Perez’s false statements, something that hasn’t occurred as far as I am aware. (Not that one can expect much out of the very partisan OPR these days.)
None of this comes as a surprise to lawyers who worked with Rodriguez in western Pennsylvania. A source told me that Rodriguez was very difficult to work with and extremely political. When Clinton’s political appointee, Harry Litman, came in, Litman made Rodriguez his first assistant, despite Rodriguez’s relatively short tenure and lack of expertise compared to most of the other career prosecutors in the office. Rodriguez basically operated as Litman’s chief of staff, the same role he has fulfilled for Perez.
“Rodriguez was Litman’s hatchet man -- he inserted himself into everything and took detailed notes in meetings,” the source told me. Sound familiar? “Whatever Litman wanted done that he did not want his fingerprints on, Rodriguez took care of for him,” said the source.
Career lawyers also became very frustrated with Rodriguez over a particular issue: “They [Rodriguez and Litman] apparently viewed possession of child pornography as simply voyeurism, and they had no interest in prosecuting such matters. Cases would be investigated and recommended for prosecution in child exploitation cases, and they were routinely rejected by Litman and Rodriguez,” the source told me.
What is very clear is that the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee -- where Rodriguez’s nomination will be reviewed -- must examine the role Rodriguez played in the Civil Rights Division’s mishandling of the New Black Panther Party case and his participation in misleading a tribunal and obstructing their investigation in violation of federal law. His rejection of child-exploitation cases while an Assistant U.S. Attorney is also an important area of inquiry, as is his lack of experience with federal labor laws.
Quite frankly, for the Senate to confirm a lawyer who has engaged in unprofessional conduct would be a great disservice to the rule of law. It is not the behavior we should expect (and demand) from public officials who take an oath to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the United States.
Rodriguez’s nomination is also a sad reflection on the views and opinions of the Obama administration, which is displaying no concern over one of the worst and most outrageous scandals to arise in its Justice Department -- the conscious and deliberate implementation of a policy in which ideology and race drive law-enforcement decisions, and obstructing an investigation is considered acceptable behavior.