The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility has told Nola.com that it will not disclose any reports or documents generated as part of its investigation into former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten’s office, citing a federal law that protects such information when disclosing it “could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings.” Nola.com has taken this to suggest that “ethical or criminal charges may arise from the probe.”
We reported on the series of events that led to the DOJ’s investigation here. It is not clear whether that investigation is ongoing or has been completed. Nola.com speculates about its scope:Any criminal investigation about the Perricone posts, experts said, would probably focus on whether the prosecutor revealed information known only to a federal grand jury in his online rants. Doing so could violate federal law, experts have said. The inquiry also likely has sought to determine whether Perricone violated a Justice Department prohibition against lawyers publicly commenting on pending matters. The U.S. Attorneys’ Manual notes that lawyers should try not to prejudice court proceedings by offering opinions about a defendant’s guilt or making comments about his character. The manual also warns Justice employees about creating “an appearance that the employee’s official duties were performed in a biased or less than impartial manner.”
The article cites a 2011 Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility annual report that says over 1,000 complaints are received by the office annually, but the few which are not disposed of as frivolous tend to be based on judicial opinions or referrals from within the agency. “Most involve complaints about prosecutors, such as accusations that they made improper remarks to a jury or neglected to give the defense exculpatory material, according to the 2011 report.”
Nola.com ends its piece with a quote from U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt, who expressed concerns that the DOJ would address the problems in Letten’s office through an internal investigation:“Having the DOJ investigate itself will likely only yield a delayed yet unconvincing result in which no confidence can rest, ” he wrote. “If no wrongdoing is uncovered, it will come as a surprise to no one given the conflict of interest existing between the investigator and the investigated.”
In response to Engelhardt’s order the DOJ announced the appointment of a federal prosecutor in Atlanta to conduct a second investigation. It is also unknown whether this has been completed, but The Open File will keep you updated as we become aware of any developments.
On April 29, nola.com reported that a motion recently filed at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal reveals that Judge Engelhardt indicated at a status conference in mid-April that this second investigation by Atlanta assistant U.S. Attorney John Horn “might be ongoing for some time.”