Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Politics replaced merit in Bush's Justice Department

The Bush administration took the country down the road to dysfunction by replacing merit with politics as a deciding factor in hiring decisions.

Justice Weeds Out Liberals, Report Says

Ivy Leaguers and other top law students were rejected for plum Justice Department jobs two years ago because of their liberal leanings or objections to Bush administration politics, a government report concluded Tuesday.

In one case, a Harvard Law student was passed over after criticizing the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. In another, a Georgetown University student who had previously worked for a Democratic senator and congressman didn't make the cut.

Even senior Justice Department officials flinched at what appeared to be hiring decisions based — improperly and illegally — on politics, according to the internal report.

"Individuals at the department were rejecting any of our candidates who could be construed as left-wing or who were perceived, based on their appearances and resumes and so forth, as being more liberal," Kevin Ohlson, deputy director of the department's executive office of immigration review, complained to Justice investigators.

The report marked the culmination of a yearlong investigation by Justice's inspector general and Office of Professional Responsibility into whether Republican politics were driving hiring polices at the once fiercely independent department...

The report issued Tuesday concluded that politics and ideology disqualified a significant number of newly graduated lawyers and summer interns seeking coveted Justice jobs in 2006.

As early as 2002, career Justice employees complained to department officials that Bush administration political appointees had largely taken over the hiring process for summer interns and so-called Honors Program jobs for newly graduated law students. For years, job applicants had been judged on their grades, the quality of their law schools, their legal clerkships and other experiences.

But in 2002, many applicants who identified themselves as Democrats or were members of liberal-leaning organizations were rejected while GOP loyalists with fewer legal skills were hired, the report found. Of 911 students who applied for full-time Honors jobs that year, 100 were identified as liberal — and 80 were rejected. By comparison, 46 were identified as conservative, and only four didn't get a job offer.

The political filtering of applicants ebbed for the three years between 2003 and 2005, the inquiry found, then resumed by 2006.

Of 602 Honors candidates that year, 150 were identified as liberal — including 83 who were cut. Five of 28 self-described conservatives were rejected.

Investigators blamed two political appointees on a three-person screening committee for the preferential treatment. It also singled out one of them, former deputy attorney general staff chief Michael Elston, for failing to make sure the hirings were proper — and giving evasive and misleading answers about why they were not.

Although federal law prohibits discriminating against government job applicants based on their politics, it's unlikely that any of those involved in the hiring process will be penalized since they no longer work at the department...

"This is the first smoking gun," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee. "We believe there will be more to come. This report shows clearly that politics and ideology replaced merit as the hiring criteria at one of our most prized civil service departments."

Thursday, June 19, 2008

No free speech in Singapore; thank goodness judges can't do this in the US

Singapore v. Nair
Posted June 18th, 2008 by Arthur Bright
Threat type: CriminalDate: 05/31/2008
Subject Area(s): Criminal, Libel
Party Issuing Threat:
Party Receiving Threat:
Gopalan Nair
Type of Threatening Party:
Type of Threatened Party:

Gopalan Nair, a U.S. citizen who blogs from Fremont, California, was arrested in Singapore for publishing insulting comments on his blog, Singapore Dissident, and in an email about two Singaporean judges.

In May 2008, Nair, a former Singapore lawyer, attended a hearing in a defamation suit brought against members of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party by Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's first prime minister, and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Lee Kuan Yew's son. On May 29, Nair wrote in his blog that the trial judge, Belinda Ang, "prostitut[ed] herself during the entire proceedings, by being nothing more than an employee of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew and his son and carrying out their orders." In another blog entry, Nair also challenged the government to prosecute him, writing, "I am now within your jurisdiction.... What are you going to do about it?"

On May 31, Singaporean police arrested Nair for insulting Ang in an email, a crime under Section 13D (1)(a) of the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order & Nuisance) Act. Nair was jailed until June 5, when he was released on bail. On June 12, the police filed a second charge against Nair under Section 228 of Singapore's Penal Code, which criminalizes "[i]ntentional insult or interruption to a public servant sitting in any stage of a judicial proceeding," for comments in an email he allegedly sent to Judge Lai Siu Chiu in March 2006. On June 16, the police amended the original charge against Nair to also fall under Section 228 of the Penal Code and to specify that the offense was written in Nair's blog, not in an email.

If convicted, Nair faces a fine of 5,000 Singapore dollars and up to one year in jail. Nair has said he will fight the charges.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Judge admits wrongdoing--but only after losing in California Superior Court

I suspect that this judge is not the least ethical state judge in California.

This story appears to be typical of what I know of the practice of law in California. Of course, I was introduced to the court system by Stutz, Artiano, Shinoff & Holtz, who were working with Parham & Rajcic, who may not be typical. These two firms help public school clients commit and cover-up wrongdoing. As a result of the machinations of these two firms, I got to know lawyers Deborah Garvin and Elizabeth Schulman, who may perhaps have been restrained by legal ethics in some other case, but certainly were not so restrained in mine.

Finally, I had my eyes opened by the California Teachers Association, of which I had been a big supporter, financially as well as politically, for decades. I discovered that CTA lawyers were just as ready as any of the above-mentioned attorneys to violate the law in order to gain a political advantage for the people who run the union. Head counsel Beverly Tucker and CTA executive director Carolyn Doggett turned out to be no better than Dan Shinoff.

During my odyssey in the court system, I met only one ethical lawyer. Unfortunately for me, she has gone on to bigger and better things than school district lawsuits.

For these reasons, the following story is interesting only in that it is the exception to the rule.

Most of us don't have the resources of Tom Siebel, and we will never get apologies from the attorneys and institutions who make big money and good reputations by abusing the justice system.

May 2, 2008
Judge apologizes, agrees to pay Tom Siebel $100,000
Associated Press
Posted by Natalie Weinstein

A California judge has issued a public apology and agreed to pay $100,000 to the founder of Siebel Systems for damaging his reputation in a lawsuit she filed as a lawyer in the mid-1990s.

San Mateo Superior Court Judge Carol Mittlesteadt issued a letter of apology to Tom Siebel on Thursday to express her "sincere regret for pursuing claims against you that were determined to be without merit." She also acknowledged that she "may have caused substantial expense and inconvenience, and damage to your reputation and good name."

Siebel founded business software maker Siebel Systems in the early 1990s. He was chairman of Siebel Systems until Oracle bought the company for $5.8 billion in 2006. Siebel is now chairman of First Virtual Group, a diversified holding company based in Palo Alto, Calif.

Mittlesteadt, who became a judge 10 years ago, issued the unusual apology to fulfill the requirements of a settlement that wraps up a legal saga that began 12 years ago when Siebel Systems fired its top sales representative. Mittlesteadt, who represented the employee, filed a wrongful-termination and sex discrimination suit against Siebel and his company. A court later ruled that the claims against him were unfounded.

Siebel told the Associated Press that he hopes that the public apology will teach attorneys not to fabricate claims in hopes of extracting a large settlement.

"This was a single person's effort at tort reform," he said. Siebel added that he is surprised Mittlesteadt is a judge. "I am not sure who is watching the hen house here," he said.

Siebel plans to donate the money to Stanford's law school for the study of legal ethics.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Is it legal to express opinions about lawyers?

Click HERE to see the website that caused a lawsuit.

Click HERE for David Ardia's report on Citizens Media Law Project.

Below is part of the report by David Ardia:

Browne v. Avvo Inc.
Posted December 19th, 2007 by David Ardia
Threat type:
LawsuitDate: 06/14/2007
Subject Area(s): Anonymity, CDA 230, Reviews

PartiesParty Issuing Threat:
John Henry Browne; Alan J Wenokur;

Party Receiving Threat:
Avvo Inc.; Mark Britton; John 1-25 Does

Dismissed (total) Verdict or Settlement Amount:
On June 14, 2007, two prominent lawyers in Seattle, WA filed a class action lawsuit against Avvo Inc., the operator of, a website that profiles and rates lawyers and allows users to submit reviews of lawyers they have worked with. Plaintiffs also sued Mark Britton, Avvo's CEO, and 25 anonymous "John Doe" users of the site.

The lawsuit alleges that Avvo's rating system, which plaintiffs claim resulted in their receiving an unreasonably low score, violates the Washington Consumer Protection Act. They also allege that Avvo purports to be objective but is subject to manipulation, cannot produce a reliable system, contains inherent inconsistencies, does not provide a reliable benchmark for assessing lawyer competence, encourages consumer trust in a fallible system, allows attorneys to manipulate their ratings, promotes qualities of attorneys in violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct, and does not accurately report in the categories where it purports to do so. As a result, they assert that Avvo has damaged their reputation and good will. Moreover, by filing a class action lawsuit, the two lawyers are disputing not only their own rankings on the site, but are also challenging the accuracy and validity of the mathematical algorithm used by Avvo to rate and compare attorneys.

On June 28, 2007, defendants filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, which the court granted on December 18. In dismissing the complaint without leave to amend, Judge Lasnik wrote that the ratings on the site are protected statements of opinion, noting that "defendants' rating is not only defensible, it is virtually impossible to prove wrong." While evidencing clear skepticism about lawyer ratings generally, the judge also took the plaintiffs to task for bringing the lawsuit:

[P]laintiffs Browne and Wenokur want to make a federal case out of the number assigned to them because (a) it could harm their reputation, (b) it could cost them customers/fees, or (c) it could mislead the lawyer-hiring public into retaining poor lawyers or bypassing better lawyers. To the extent that their lawsuit has focused a spotlight on how ludicrous the rating of attorneys (and judges) has become, more power to them. To the extent that they seek to prevent the dissemination of opinions regarding attorneys and judges, however, the First Amendment precludes their cause of action

Judge Lasnik also rejected the plaintiffs' claim under the Washington Consumer Protection Act, concluding that the rankings are not commercial enough to fall under the act and any damages resulting from consumer misinformation are too speculative to support a claim.

As to Avvo’s possible defense under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the judge noted that "[p]laintiffs have disavowed any claim based on content that Avvo obtained from a third-party and the Court need not consider this defense further."

Update: No word on whether the plaintiffs will appeal.