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April 02, 2007

Do the Right Thing

Do the Right Thing

by Michele Martinez

The happiest years of my life, professionally speaking, were spent as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, and no matter what I do in the future, I know that will always be true.  There were a million reasons why I loved that job so passionately.  But if I had to pick the single most important one, it would be this: from the beginning, the only imperative my supervisors ever gave me -- no matter what their political affiliation -- was to do the right thing.

I came on in mid-'93, when the first Clinton Administration was just getting into swing.  Janet Reno signed my appointment papers.  But the funny thing, the thing that would make no sense today, is that I'd been hired under the previous regime.  The man who made me my offer and shook my hand when I accepted was Andy Maloney.  He was a prosecutor's prosecutor, an Irishman beloved by law enforcement, and under his leadership, the Office (as we called it) had done some of the all-time great mob prosecutions, including Gotti.   

Go to fullsize image   Andy Maloney was also a Bush Sr. appointee, but it never occurred to me to worry about that when I applied despite the fact that my resume screamed "Democrat."  The job just wasn't political.

Shortly after Andy shook my hand, the administrations changed.  (Which meant Clinton Administration prior drug use standards applied to my background check --yeah!)  When Bill Clinton came in, he asked all the Bush-era U.S. Attorneys to resign and appointed new ones.  That was customary; everybody expected it.  Zachary Carter became the U.S. Attorney in my district.  Zach's style was different than Andy's had been.  More intellectual, quieter, less flashy.  His priorities were different.  Fewer mob cases.  More narcotics initiatives designed to attack crime in the many poor and minority neighborhoods in our district.  (Those were the cases I worked on and I loved every second of it.) And of course, some famous police brutality and corruption cases, including the Abner Louima case.  We never really thought that that was because Zach was a Democrat and Andy was a Republican.  They were individuals, and they called it as they saw it in their time and place.

When I was an Assistant, we didn't hear much from Main Justice, and we liked it that way.  We thought of them as pencil-pushers, bureaucrats -- when we thought about them at all.  There were a few things we needed their approval on, albeit important things, like wiretap applications and RICO prosecutions and seeking the death penalty, and they loved to say no to us. They didn't know our cases or our agents.  They assumed we were trying to overstep our authority.  We resented the power they had over us and spent a lot of time bitching and moaning about them. In retrospect, they were an important check on our prosecutorial zeal.  They never told us what to do.  They just told us what not to do and when to calm down.  They gave us perspective. 

I left the job in January of '01 kicking and screaming.  I didn't leave because the regime had changed again, although that did make it easier to let go.  I left because my children needed me and I could no longer ignore that fact (although, believe me, I tried.)  I cried for the next six months, and did my best to fill the gap by writing novels about a woman who still has my job.  I'm jealous of her.

So why don't I go back?  It turns out the old adage is true -- you can't go home again.  Shortly after I left, John Ashcroft took over the Department of Justice and issued regulations requiring the U.S. Attorney's Offices to seek the death penalty in every case in which it was allowed by statute.  I'd worked in Brooklyn.  We didn't care what the statute allowed.  We reserved the death penalty for only the most heinous cases, and then only if we had the strongest, most unassailable evidence.  Many of us were conscientious objectors who wouldn't work on death penalty cases at all.  Under Ashcroft, that didn't fly.  Everybody had to fall in line.  Main Justice was running the show, and we'd damn well better follow their agenda.  The Office was profoundly changed.

Go to fullsize image  Now this.  Eight U.S. Attorneys out of 95 fired in the middle of Bush's second term.  Why?  In the most outrageous instances -- Carol Lam in San Diego and David Iglesias in New Mexico -- there is clear evidence that the firings were meant to influence the outcome of particular cases for partisan political gain.  The others who were fired, according to an e-mail written by AG Alberto Gonzalez's former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, had proven that they were not "loyal Bushies" because they'd failed to demonstrate "loyalty to the priorities" of the Bush Administration.  The Attorney General said he wasn't involved and didn't know.  His chief of staff testified that he was briefed on the firing plan repeatedly over a period of two years.

This is probably a politically incorrect thing to say, but I'm pretty sad that this guy is the first Latino Attorney General.  I can't imagine how even a brilliant damage control operation (which, frankly, Gonzalez isn't capable of) can redeem the reputation of the institution that I love so much.  How will anybody ever believe again that federal prosecutions are not politically motivated?  I'm not going to come out and take a position on whether Gonzalez should resign or not.  We're not a political blog.  But come on, Mr. Attorney General, do the right thing.


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Good thoughts, Michele.

Yes, and . . . On the bright side, you know an ethnic group has really arrived in the main stream when an exemplar is described in the press as just plain 'corrupt,' not as 'corrupt ethnic.' No one called "Fast Eddie" Vrydolyak a corrupt Slav. "Corrupt bastard" was sufficient.

Hope your deadlines are met.

My ethnic group has been avant garde in being blamed for things, so it'll take, oh, about 2,000 (or is it 3,500?) years for you to catch up. This scandal, and the much worse torture war crimes scandal, are not a bad start, though.

That being said, I don't think that most prosecutions from the USA office are politically motivated; things seem more personal here in Delaware. Plus, just over the State line, they indicted a long-time Republican congressman in October, I think. I don't know if if cost him the election, but it =must've helped him lose. That USA is still around.

This has the potential to be a very political day here at The Lipstick Chronicles, so I will watch my tongue.

I will not be political. I will not be political. I will not be political.

OK, my mantra said, I will say that I have been concerned about Gonzales for the exact reasons you mentioned -- his standing as the first Latino AG -- even before the scandal broke, and more concerned when he was being considered for a Supreme Court position. My basic concern wasn't scandal, though, at the time, it was competence. I realize this is a terrible thing to say, but the "first" of any religion or ethnicity seems to have to be even better at his or her job than anyone to come after if the name-calling segment of the population is to accept them.


I should know better than to post so early...I tend not to be cheerful this early!


Just about a year ago, I had the great pleasure of doing a CLE (Continuting Legal Education) panel with Michele Martinez on The Patriot Act. The local USAttorney *insisted* there were no abuses going on. Uh-huh.

I think we all know how well THAT turned out. Michele was so dismayed, and told us then how different things were when she was in the Office - a place where things like, oh, let's say the U.S. Constitution - still had meaning and value.

Tomorrow Michele and I get to do another CLE - and guess what we'll be talking about? So if you are anywhere near Pittsburgh, you are not going to want to miss this woman. Michele knows what justice is, and she is righteously outraged.

Proud to know you, Michele.

Michele, it's nice to see that, when you come out of the hole, you come out swinging. As Laura K noted, I will not be political. It's too discouraging. But I do want to compliment you on so eloquently sharing your experience and thoughts.

Your passion and love for your old job is very apparent in your new one. Is it hokey to say that, while you can't go home again in reality, it's great that Melanie can continue to hang around there on your behalf?

Interesting insight Michelle.
It will be interesting to see how political this blog will become today, even though this is not a political blog.

See, the thing about Michele's blog today is that it provides insight I haven't read elsewhere. I was wondering how the individual regions operated with respect to Washington and now I know.

This does not have to become political. It SHOULDN'T be political. What Michele has done - and bravely, too - is clearly illustrate where the wrongs are. Blanket policy edicts should not be issued from on high - and this goes for Democrats and Republicans. In fact, if we remove all those words, the only thing that remains is Gonzales.

He should go.

And then maybe the Washingtonians will learn that, though oversight is essential (as Michele pointed out), the regional bureaus need to be allowed to do their jobs. And that applies for both parties.

We are so proud to have Michele as a Tart. Very, very proud.

What an eloquest post this morning, Michele. I know so little about this subject---and what I do know, I have gleaned from your novels, which---like this blog--pack a lot of useful information into a well-told and personal story. COVER-UP is in stores now, folks. Do our lovely and eloquent Michele a favor and buy it today!

Very insightful points, all. Sarah, you are so right. I would have done better to say I'm not trying to be *partisan*, rather than political. This isn't a Republican or Democratic issue. Everybody suffers when the criminal justice process gets politicized, because -- as the Republicans are finding out -- you don't stay in power forever. Bush Sr. wasn't like this, and I can imagine Democrats who would be. It's really about respect for the institutions and understanding why they're so important.

What a great post, Michele! Looking forward to the CLE tomorrow night in Pittsburgh!

Thanks, Michele, for the best explanation of the Gonzales issue I've read anywhere -- and for your insider knowledge.

Beachfla -- can't wait to meet you in person! Do I get to learn your real name?

To make this perfectly clear, Kathy Reschini Sweeney and I are co-teaching a Continuing Legal Education seminar on the topic of the U.S. Attorney firings tomorrow night at Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Pittshburgh. There's a signing at 5:30, and the CLE (which includes dinner) starts at 6:30. Nancy will be there too, so all FOTs, be there or be square.

Wow, Michele....I'm seriously considering hopping a flight to Pittsburgh today just to hear this!

It's good knowing there are people in those offices who DO care about doing what's right. People are people, and there will be mistakes made and abuses taken, but knowing most are people who take their enormous responsibility seriously is a comfort.

So much of this is just embarrassing. Just as some can say that there has been some serious slippage in cultural decorum, the same can be said for the political. Neither side gets a walk on this issue.

The embarrassment is all the sharper when it is one of your minority group, sad but true.

BTW, did anyone see the article on the front page of the Weekend Wall Street Journal with the title, "The Conscience of the Colonel"?

Hmmm, when invited to view this blog I was told by a friend " Go ahead, you want to comment, just stay away from your ideas about religion and politics". I was happy to follow the rules, because: #1 I dont have any religion #2 I am a Rebublican #3 My son is now stationed in Baghdad #4 I am NRA #5 I am Pro choice #6 I did and still live under the idea, MY COUNTRY RIGHT OR WRONG!. So I will leave this one alone, and check out the blog tomorrow.

SusanCo, we want you to feel free to express your views here, whatever they are. I bet you'd find lots of Tarts and FOTs share more of them than you think.

I, for one, have the utmost respect for your son for serving his country. I have two boys, and I've gotten into arguments with people because if there were to be a draft (which, frankly, I think would be a fairer system, socioeconomically speaking, than what we have now), I would expect them to serve, even if I disagreed with the war. Most people who share my views otherwise can't fathom that I feel this way. But both my parents came from poor immigrant families, I went to Harvard, and my children are growing up with incredible privilege. Where else could that happen? Also, the military saved my father's life -- got him his GED, sent him to college. I definitely share some of the "my country, right or wrong" sentiment you expressed, but I feel that way out of love for the ideals, and I just felt a need to speak up on this issue. Please feel free to do the same.


I've been curious as to your take on this and now I know. Can't say I'm surprised.

I've written projects for two federal agencies recently and I can tell you that everything is run past a political officer, just like in the old Soviet Union. Copy gets changed for the wrong reasons and the old hands tell me that they've never seen anything quite like this.

It's a sad day for this country when that same corrupting ethic permeates the DOJ.

Since leaving my longtime career as a newspaper person, I've relished in the fact that I can finally be political, after years of registering Independent because I didn't want anyone I was covering to think that I was biased. So I will go over the hedge here and say that Gonzalez has to go, this administration has to go and everyone has to start doing the right thing.

I think it's wonderful that you're still so passionate about your first love, Michele, and after leaving my chosen career after 20 years, I, too, am living vicariously through my protag, who, however, is a much better reporter than I ever was!

Will see you Friday night at the Book Vault in Wallingford, CT!!

Michele, a great blog from someone who's got--well, I think it's called Street Cred, but I'm not sure, as I have none. Like Nancy, what I know about this issue I've learned from your books and my father-in-law.

SusanCo, I'm going out on a limb here to say that all politics notwithstanding, there's not a reader here who doesn't applaud your son's courage -- and yours -- and long for his safe return home.

Thanks for your insights, Michele. You've answered some questions I've had about this issue and highlighted some of my concerns.

David -- how disturbing that it's happening in other agencies as well. Thanks for posting that.

Karen -- thanks for posting. I'm so looking forward to Wallingford and can't wait to see you. Love that store! For anybody looking for a great venue for a signing in the northeast, Jan and Stu at the Book Vault in Wallingford, Connecticut put on a mean event in one of the most gorgeous spaces you are ever going to find.

Looking back over the comments, I realize I never responded to some of the really interesting things people had to say about Gonzalez.

Laura K said that she was always concerned about Gonzalez's competence. In a way, this *is* a competence issue. In my view, if you're a government lawyer with a sense of history and respect for the institutions, and if you have any guts at all, you stand your ground and don't bend to the pressure to politicize your agency. If it comes down to it, you resign to make your point, like Elliot Richardson and William Ruckelhaus did years ago. Hard to imagine Gonzalez sacrificing his position to uphold a principle. He's too much of a yes-man.


Harley is right about our best wishes for your son. I'm a vet myself and have two nephews in Iraq. One is a major with a Stryker Brigade, the other is a surgeon with an FST. Our concern for their safety, and your son's, transcends politics.

During my 28 years as a newspaper reporter in New Jersey and Southeastern Pennsylvania, I came in contact with several US Attorneys and numerous assistants (AUSA's) and Michele typifies the idealism and dedication of every one of them, and I hasten to add that I have met none who didn't have those qualities. There were no hacks on board, at least none I met in my 28 year career. The federal prosecutors, and all their assistants were, in this journalist's tired eyes, the very best and the brightest of any city or state's lawyers.

Sad to say, Bush is changing that. When I read that a lawyer who, at Karl Rove's bidding, pushed through the Texas redistricting case and tried to purge the voting roles of African-American voters who happened be in the service and away from home, is given a top slot at Justice, I gag. When I read that people whose resumes include smears and slime in service of the GOP are given decision making jobs in Justice, and access to illegally obtained FBI wiretap information, I weep.

Rove and Bush are systematically destroying one of the finest instutions in America -- the federal prosecutorial bar. (if there is such a thing.)

What are they doing to America?

Thanks, Michele, for sharing your insight. One thing that always amazes me is that, in this day and age, there are still people who try to lie their way out of the messes they get themselves into. It's not even the lack of integrity that gets me -- I'm just in awe that anyone could believe that a physical or electronic paper trail won't trip them up.

Anyway, my larger point is that I will always believe that, in politics as in other realms, there is room for people of good will and integrity to disagree respectfully. And that's a darned good thing; without those disagreements, how would we ever grow?

I agree, JayMagoo. I was taught that an independent judiciary -- independent from the changing political winds and the executive branch -- was something America stood for, and has going for it. I didn't think this was a partisan issue, but simply a fact of how our government works.

The best thing that I can say for the current administrations policies is that I have a whole new empathy and respect for the citizens and descendents of Nazi Germany. I am so horrified at what has been done in my name, that I finally really understand that the 3rd Reich did not represent will of the entire population. Yes, I am slow on the uptake.

Also, I get very frustrated that not supporting the administration is construed as not supporting people in the armed services. The two are mutually exclusive.

Thanks, JayMagoo, for that testimonial. I had great respect for my colleagues in the USAO even when I disagreed with them. Like I said, they were all trying to do the right thing with their cases and uphold the integrity of the system. It's my sincere hope that whoever wins the next election, of whichever party, will understand how important it is to keep criminal prosecutions and politics separate.

Thanks for this Michele -- I'd been wanting to email you and ask you about this, but I felt like it might be like asking the doctor at the cocktail party about your lingering cough or the weird thing on your neck . . . This is fascinating and I feel like I now understand my own outrage about the situation a little better. I've been mad, but I didn't quite get why until I read this.

This has been a very good morning for gaining understanding. This is philosophy, and only political insofar as one chooses to apply it to the present day.

Previously, I had not realized how Nicolas Chauvin's "My country, right or wrong" in support of Napolean Bonaparte's foreign policy is descended from King Louis's "L'Etat, c'est moi ("I am the Nation!")!"

Just look at those results.

I've been doing some research for the CLE seminar Kathy and I are doing tomorrow night, and I went and actually read the statutes governing appointment of U.S. Attorneys and interim U.S. Attorneys. I wish I'd done that before writing this blog, because it really adds a shocking element to the discussion.

28 U.S.C. Section 541 provides that U.S. Attorneys are to be appointed for a four year term with the advice and consent of the Senate. In other words, there's a confirmation process so political hacks can't get in there.

Where a vacancy arises, either because the U.S. Attorney was fired or he/she resigns, Section 546 sets up a procedure for appointing an interim U.S. Attorney until a new one can be nominated and confirmed by the Senate. This is the provision that got hacked to bits by the Patriot Act reauthorization last year. It used to say that the Attorney General could appoint an interim U.S. Attorney for a maximum of 120 days, and after that, the district court would appoint somebody else if a new U.S. Attorney hadn't yet been confirmed by the Senate. The Patriot Act got rid of the 120-day time limit on interim appointments, so the Attorney General could appoint a replacement indefinitely without going through the Senate confirmation process.

To see that provision changed, and then to see how it was abused -- just chilling.

Sorry for the long legal discourse but I couldn't help myself.

At the risk of repeating things, The Patriot Act is a much more dangerous statute than most people realize.

It's influence is pervasive - the civil liberties impacted are legion - and it was all done under the guise of "Protecting Us from the Bad Guys".

The problem is, as our Founding Fathers knew all too well, the Bad Guys are sometimes already inside the house.

Cannot wait for tomorrow night!

At the risk of bringing up writing today (hehe), for those of us/you with teenagers, there is an excellent YA novel which addresses the uses and abuses of the Patriot Act in a school setting. It's called AFTER by Francine Prose.

Sorry. Once a librarian....

What a great blog this is. At the end of the day, I've learned a whole bunch and no flames are coming out of my computer. Michele, I'd forgotten that bit about the Patriot Act. Surprise, surprise, NPR was the only outlet I ran across that mentioned it, and only a few times at the beginning of the story. I haven't heard it mentioned in ages. Daggoned liberal media!

I sure wish I could hear your & Kathy's seminar tonight. Bet it's awesome.

Then again,
since we have had the Patriot Act, the United States of America has not suffered from another attack on our shores. In comparison to the unanswered bombings of 1993 and 1996 in New York and Georgia, respectfully.

I'm not kneejerk anti Patriot Act, Dave. I was in law enforcement, and there are provisions in there that were long overdue and necessary. But it's a kitchen sink sort of law, and there are heinous things in there as well. To me, the executive branch intentionally slipping in a provision that gives them away to go around a congressional confirmation process, and then demonstrating by their subsequent actions that that's exactly what they'd intended to use it for, is pretty scary.

Uh, don't speak too soon, Dave. Who knows what kind of attack's been cooking - and when it will be launched.

... And now that I think of it, wasn't there some sort of memo. Something about Osama bin Laden determined to attack within the U.S.....?

Dave - that's a joke, right?

What an original response. Imagine that our founders also saw that one coming, perhaps? They DO have a copy of the Consitution in your local library, no?

What a great discussion. I want to emphasize, along with others, that supporting our troops is a completely separate issue from questioning our government.

I have great admiration for the men and women who serve our country.

It's the policy makers I worry about.

And Dave, I was going to ignore you, but Jesus, you simply cannot be that naive.

This nation is comprised of two parts; its citizens and its laws. The former - all of them! - are expected to regulate the latter in order to regulate - ah, look who's back! - the former.

All of us, not some of us, must be subject to the rule of law. All of us, not some of us, must be equal in the eyes of the law.

As to bombings going unanswered . . . Ramzi and his co-conspirators are doing time. Their network installations in the Middle East were rocketed, which you'll recall provoked great outcry and criticism from the House, Senate and media.

The search for Eric Rudolph, the Atlanta bomber, went on until he was captured. He's doing time. That's an answer.

Law enforcement and the Constitution and the court system worked well in both cases.

Weakening the Constitution will never provide better justice; it will diminish justice. Weakening the Constitution will never provide more freedom. ________________________________ (Fill in the blank).

Tom - thank you for that response. I couldn't figure out how to post one that didn't include the word asshole.

Michele - a superb blog.


Thanks for the insightful blog. I know your visit to Mystery Lovers Bookstore tomorrow and your CLE with Kathy Sweeney et al. will be lively and memorable.

I don't think it's piling-on to mention the gross impropriety of the phone calls from Dominici and Wilson to Igleias about pending ivestigations. Further evidence of just how low this administration has set the ethical bar, is that these two yahoos obviously believed that Iglesias might play ball.

The USA PATRIOT Act is such a lightening rod. It seems to represent all of anxieties we have about big, secretive, intrusive government. And no wonder. It is an ill-considered, hastily enacted hodge-podge providing for everything from enhanced sneak and peak to compensation for 9.11 victims. Hopefully, some of the goofier law enforcement activities it allows, such as searching library records, simply won't get funded by this congress. I don't think it's too much to hope this congress will actually read the Act, perhaps for the first time, debate it and fix it.

Welcome to Pittsburgh.

Great comments. That's what I get for turning in early last night.

Thank you for bringing up Domenici and Wilson, Buzz. I actually had a little section in an earlier draft of the blog about them, but it was getting too long so I deleted it. Why is nobody calling for their resignations? Could it have something to do with the fact that Congress is spearheading this investigation, and they don't like to go after their own?

I find it fascinating how one can present a different point of view and be ridiculed. Name calling N.J. Joe? Turning this blog into the Rosie O'Donnell version of "The View?"

Some people prefer to be motivated by fear, some people prefer problem solving. I am in the latter group.

If/when Osama Bin Laden or any of his clones attempt to organize another attack against me, my family or friends - I will take whatever preventive measures necesary. The attacks of 1993 and 1996(Remember there were two of them in 1996) revealed the soft underbelly of our country policy makers. The biggest allay (and talent) Osama Bin Laden has is his ability to generate social fear. The naive Chicken Littles of the world merely follow the mad man's lead.

Considering that I work for a library system (JJ), I have witnessed firsthand the fear mongering created by American Library Association. I dropped my membership with ALA because of their political fears had nothing to do with library services for patrons. The only time I witness a patron's record being examined is when the individual fail to return their books or DVDs on time.

One thing my World War II veteran parents taught me, was to always have faith in the American People. Elections are the voice of the people and they have cleansing and cathartic effects.

That said Michelle, the Patriot Act may revised at some future date, IF the American people really want to change it.

Late comment, but I saw this last night and thought it was a good explanation of what happened here in Arkansas:

The tragedy of Bud Cummins is that, unlike the other 7 U.S. attorneys whose firings may have been because they got on the wrong side of the White House for something they might actually have done (or failed to do), Cummins seems to have been dumped entirely for the sake of finding a slot for a former Arkansan whose principal distinction was being on Karl Rove's dirty tricks squad. And without having to put him through a Senate confirmation process that would very
likely have gone nowhere even in a
Republican-controlled Senate

Oh, wow... that's scary stuff.

The death penalty thing you mention is what really eeps me. George Voinovich was the governor of Ohio, and there was one case that just sickened me. A man on death row won an appeal, his day to die was coming up, he got a stay of execution (kinda pointless to give him an appeal if he's dead before it's heard), and Voinovich appealed to the Supreme Court (and informed the press, because, you know, tough on crime, and all) to overturn the stay.

Now, I don't expect everyone to be *as* appalled by this as I am... the idea of asking the courts to kill a man before his court date might not be as freaky to some as it is to me. But the idea of taking special measures to kill a man, of making a fuss to kill a man, to ring up the Supremes because you're eager to kill a man... I thought that should bug some folks. I guess it didn't, because the bastard's a senator.

That bit you mention about the death penalty, kill 'em all, if the law allows it, that's *scary*.

But, interestingly, you can draw a straight line from there to Guantanemo and black sites and secret prisoners and torture and so forth.

"Better to punish someone who doesn't deserve it than to fail to punish someone who does"... that's the Bush administration's war on terror in a nutshell.

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