Some Questions for Sessions

AMI Don Stern photo

Don Stern

In today’s Boston Globe, NAFUSA member Don Stern posts Some questions for Sessions. The confirmation for Senator Sessions is scheduled to begin today before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Stern suggests some questions the Committee should ask and the answers he believes would be the appropriate responses.

Stern writes,

…the core role of the attorney general — as the nation’s highest-ranking lawyer and prosecutor, and as the protector of the integrity of the Department of Justice — should not be ignored. This means that the attorney general must ensure that the Justice Department remains free of politics, insists on the highest ethical standards, and makes decisions based soley on the facts and the law. While the attorney general is appointed by the president, he or she is not the president’s lawyer.

Henry Oncken Dies

Henry Oncken

Henry Oncken, who served as the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Texas, 1985-1990, passed away on December 21, 2016.  He attended the University of Houston and received his JD from the Bates College of Law. His career began at Humble Oil (Exxon) and then with the District Attorney’s Office. He served as a Harris County District Court Judge before his appointment in 1985 as  U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas. In retirement, Henry worked as a visiting judge in the Harris County Criminal Courts. He loved the outdoors and looked forward to spending each hunting season with his friends and family.

He is survived by his wife Jackie, daughter Leah, son-in-law Jon, grandchildren Nathan and Ava and brothers Bill and Gary. 

A Celebration of Life was held on December 28, 2016 in Houston, Texas. After the service, a reception will be held at the church followed by the gravesite service. In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made to The Gladney Center, 6300 John Ryan Drive, Ft. Worth, Texas 76132.

As is our custom,  NAFUSA has arranged for an American flag to be flown over Main Justice in Henry’s honor and it will be presented to his family as a token of the high regard with which he was held by his colleagues.

 

112 Former U.S. Attorneys Urge Senate to Support Sessions (Updated January 3, 2017)

Sen. Jeff Sessions talks to reporters at Trump Tower (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

Sen. Jeff Sessions talks to reporters at Trump Tower (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

In a letter date January 3, 2017, to Senators Grassley, Leahy and Feinstein, 112 former United States Attorneys, most of them members of NAFUSA, urged the Senate Committee on the Judiciary to support the confirmation of Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General of the United States. Click here to view letter and list of signatories: usa-ltr-sessions-2

As former U.S. Attorneys, we are in a unique position to evaluate the qualifications of Senator Sessions to serve as our nation’s Attorney General. United States Attorneys are the top- ranking federal law-enforcement officials of their jurisdictions, tasked with setting enforcement priorities, building trust with the communities they serve, and protecting the public while respecting federalism, the separation of powers, and the individual rights enshrined in the Constitution. It is not an easy job, but it is one in which Senator Sessions excelled.

 

Senator Sessions’ record reflects his priorities clearly, and none of his work as U.S. Attorney was more impactful than his sustained effort to eliminate segregation in rural Alabama and break the back of the Alabama Klan. In addition to bringing and supporting civil rights cases to fight against voter suppression and school segregation, Senator Sessions supported the investigation into the brutal murder of an African American teenager, Michael Donald. His efforts, in coordination with state authorities, ensured that the perpetrator – the son of the Alabama Klan’s leader – received a capital sentence. Sessions’ office also prosecuted an accomplice in that case, who pled guilty and received a life sentence, the maximum penalty available in federal court at the time. These successful prosecutions helped the victim’s mother win a $7 million lawsuit against the Klan, effectively crippling it as a political organization within Alabama.

 

Senator Sessions served for a remarkable twelve years as U.S. Attorney. His lengthy tenure alone is impressive given the burdens of the job, which we well know. Senator Sessions’ conspicuous service to the law and all citizens has continued as a United States Senator. In his work as a leader on the Senate Judiciary Committee, he has espoused a consistent understanding of the Constitution, a commitment to the rule of law, and an unwavering respect for the mission of the Department of Justice.

 

During his 41 years of public service, Senator Sessions has proved to be a leader of strong principles and firm beliefs. His support for the 25-year extension of the Civil Rights Act in 2006 is evidence of this. He also has proved to be a leader who appreciates positions that differ from his own and who learns from the scrutiny that comes with public life. His openness to different thinking and other worldviews is evidenced by the recent statements in support of his nomination from colleagues across the political spectrum and his support for Eric Holder’s nomination as Attorney General in 2009.

 

As former U.S. Attorneys, we worked with and for many Attorneys General, each different, each with his or her own unique strengths. We have no doubt that Senator Sessions can do the job well, bringing to this critically important office his own unique and extraordinary strengths of courage, humility, experience, and an inviolable promise to treat all people equally under the law.

 

 

 

DOJ Collects More Than $15.3 Billion in FY 2016

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch announced today that the Justice Department Collects More Than $15.3 Billion in Civil and Criminal Cases in Fiscal Year 2016. This total represents more than five times the approximately $3 billion appropriated budget for the 94 U.S. Attorneys’ offices and the main litigating divisions of DOJ combined in that same period. The largest settlements derived from cases related to the financial crisis. The total includes all monies collected as a result of Justice Department-led enforcement actions and negotiated civil settlements. Of the total, more than $12 billion was paid directly to DOJ and the remainder to other federal agencies, states and other designated recipients.

Caldwell Apologizes to U.S. Attorney’s Offices for Comments at the Federalist Society

Leslie-Caldwell

Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell raised some eyebrows with her comments last week at a panel discussion at the Federalist Society. She expressed concern about the wide variety of the “quality of the lawyers” at U.S. Attorney’s offices and claimed that Criminal Division attorneys get “far more robust” training than attorneys in the field.

But today The Wall Street Journal reported that Caldwell has sent a “Dear Friends and Colleague” letter to all U.S. Attorney’s offices apologizing profusely for her remarks at the Federal Society event:

I did not have prepared remarks for the event, and I certainly should have. Instead, I overreacted to the criticisms—which I strongly believe were not an accurate reflection of the Department’s work—by defending the Department in a way that inappropriately suggested that the care taken by U.S. Attorney’s Offices and others in making prosecutorial decisions was less than that taken by attorneys in the Criminal Division. And by making unscripted references to isolated issues in my recent experience, I realize that, rather than defending the reputation of the entire Department, I appeared to be criticizing U.S. Attorney’s Offices, Assistant U.S. Attorneys and other components. I deeply regret my remarks and the genuine hurt that they have caused. As a federal prosecutor for 19 years, including 16 years as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in two different districts, I know better.

Click here to review The Wall Street Journal Law Blog “Justice Department’s Crime Chief Apologizes for Put-Down of Colleagues and letter of apology:  wsj-article-and-letter-of-apology

AAG Caldwell Cites Lack of Experience and Oversight at Some U.S. Attorney’s Offices

Leslie Caldwell

Leslie Caldwell

Leslie Caldwell, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, expressed some surprising views yesterday at a Federalist Society event on criminal overreach at the National Press Club in D.C.

As reported by Jody Godoy of Law 360,

She observed that the “quality of the lawyers” and resources varies greatly between U.S. attorney’s offices.

“I acknowledge there are cases that get filed that shouldn’t be filed. There are districts where the oversight is not what it should be. The experience level is not what it should be,” Caldwell said.

She said DOJ Criminal Division attorneys get “far more robust” training than federal prosecutors out in the states do. And when asked about how the DOJ enforces a provision in the U.S. attorney’s manual advising prosecutors to consider noncriminal options, Caldwell replied that the manual is “much more regularly used in Washington, in the Criminal Division, than it is in the field.”

She encouraged attorneys to raise concerns with DOJ headquarters, known as Main Justice, and gave a couple of anecdotes illustrating how higher-ups killed ill-conceived cases.

In one instance, Caldwell said, Main Justice put the brakes on an attempt by an unnamed U.S. attorney to indict two partners at a major Chicago law firm who were representing a corporate client. The lawyers had attempted to get more time to respond to a subpoena and were nearly hit with an obstruction-of-justice charge.

“That prosecutor had never had that conversation before with a defense lawyer. That prosecutor didn’t know that that’s how things work … supervisory ranks did not recognize that that was not obstruction of justice,” Caldwell said, adding “thank goodness” a review by Main Justice was required.

Another time DOJ higher-ups stepped in, according to Caldwell, was when a small district attempted to indict all the adult residents of a town on racketeering charges since they were members of a religious sect that got its income through government program fraud.

In another example Caldwell gave, the DOJ in Washington played a mitigating role when a U.S. attorney tried to get high penalties for a bank facing treasury sanctions violations.

The cases illustrate that escalating concerns with a case can sometimes be effective, Caldwell said.

“It’s not always going to work when you appeal beyond the line attorney, but we recommend that if you feel strongly about a case, you at least ask to be heard,” Caldwell said.

John Richter

John Richter

NAFUSA member John Richter, another member of The Federalist Society panel remarked, according to Godoy, that even at DOJ headquarters, other sections lack criminal experience. Richter, a partner at King & Spalding, had represented Vascular Solutions, Inc., a medical device company that was acquitted of criminal off-label promotion earlier this year in a case prosecuted by a U.S. Attorney’s office and a unit from Main Justice.

Click here to view video of The Federalist panel discussionhttp://www.fed-soc.org/multimedia/detail/the-limits-of-federal-criminal-law-event-audiovideo

Bharara Expects To Remain as U.S. Attorney Under Trump

Prett Bharara/ Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

Prett Bharara/ Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

The New York Times reported this morning that Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said on Wednesday that he intended to remain in office under President-elect Trump’s administration.

Bharara was appointed in 2009 by President Obama and has served for seven years. He made the announcement after meeting with Trump at the Trump Tower. Bharara said he was asked to stay on by the president-elect and by Senator Jeff Sessions, who is the choice for attorney general.

See Bharara Says He Will Stay U.S. Attorney Under Trump.

Ernie Williams Dies

Ernie Williams

Judge Ernie Williams

Judge Ernie Williams, who served as the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee, died this week.  Judge Williams is a veteran who upon graduating high school entered the United States Marine Corps and served there from 1965 until 1969. His service included a tour in Vietnam as well as being selected as a member of the Marine Corps Color Guard in Washington, D.C. As such, he served at the White House and was ultimately honorably discharged as a sergeant.

Judge Williams returned from the Marine Corps and graduated from the University of Tennessee in December of 1974. He obtained his doctorate of jurisprudence from the Nashville School of Law in May of 1980. He ultimately moved to Franklin Tennessee and opened his own law practice where he quickly gained a reputation for being a skilled trial lawyer. President George H.W. Bush selected him to be the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee in 1991. In that role, he supervised the United States Attorney’s office in Nashville which was comprised of 75 employees and 19 assistant United States attorneys.

Judge Williams was considered to be a hands-on US attorney, actively involved in the trying of cases. These cases involved all types of federal crimes including large drug cases, sexual offenses, kidnappings and murders.

Upon leaving the United States Attorney’s office, he returned to Franklin, Tennessee where he resumed his private practice. He and his wife Nancy were very active in the community and assumed many leadership roles. His wife served on the County Commission until her untimely death in 2002. At that time, the County Commission appointed Judge Williams to fill her vacancy. He was elected to two successive terms following his appointment to represent the 9th Commissioner, he chaired numerous committees, including the budget committee. He is past chairman and board member of My Friends House, an organization that houses and assists at-risk youth throughout the community. He has also served on numerous professional legal associations. He was a Certified Supreme Court Rule 31 Civil and Family Law Mediator.

Prior to establishing Williams, Beal & Nations in 2013 in Franklin, Tennessee, Judge Williams was appointed as presiding judge of the Williamson County General Sessions Court, Division II. The General Sessions Court hears all types of small claims civil suits as well as criminal matters. As a General Sessions Judge, Judge Williams had the authority to dispose of misdemeanor cases and determine whether probable cause existed for felony charges to be brought before the Circuit Court.

Judge Williams lived in Williamson County and been a practicing attorney for 34 years. There are few attorneys in the Middle Tennessee area that have not had cases against him, mediated by him or appeared in front of him. He is survived by three children and five grandchildren.

As is our custom, NAFUSA will request that an American flag be flown over Main Justice in Judge Williams honor as a token of the high regard with which he was held by his colleagues.

Sessions is Trump’s Pick for AG

Sessions with Selden and Smietanka

Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama is the choice of President-elect Donald Trump to be the next attorney general of the United States, according to press reports citing “officials close to the transition.” If confirmed, Sessions would be the third former United States Attorney in a row to serve as AG. From 1981 to 1993 he served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama. He has been a senator from Alabama since 1997, currently serving on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Sessions is shown above with NAFUSA members Jack Selden and John Smietanka at the NAFUSA 2013 annual conference in Washington, DC.