As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Meddling Justice Department

The more information that comes out about the Purdue Frederick case, the angrier I get. I think I've mentioned that I have a cousin who spent years addicted to OxyContin. Executives at the drugmaker knew their substance was addictive and kept on selling the drugs. The prosecution in the trial didn't even argue this, and the result was a fine that will be largely paid out of the company's vast sum of profits off of the ruination of people's lives.

Now we learn that the US Attorney for Roanoke, where the Purdue Frederick case was filed, was told to slow down on the prosecution:

The night before the government secured a guilty plea from the manufacturer of the addictive painkiller OxyContin, a senior Justice Department official called the U.S. attorney handling the case and, at the behest of an executive for the drugmaker, urged him to slow down, the prosecutor told the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday.

John L. Brownlee, the U.S. attorney in Roanoke, testified that he was at home the evening of Oct. 24 when he received the call on his cellphone from Michael J. Elston, then chief of staff to the deputy attorney general and one of the Justice aides involved in the removal of nine U.S. attorneys last year.

Brownlee settled the case anyway. Eight days later, his name appeared on a list compiled by Elston of prosecutors that officials had suggested be fired.

Brownlee wasn't fired. But this is a textbook example of politicization into cases of justice. And as I said, the prosecution, even in the view of the judge, blew the case.

In announcing the unorthodox sentence, Judge James P. Jones of United States District Court indicated that he was troubled by his inability to send the executives to prison. But he noted that federal prosecutors had not produced evidence as part of recent plea deals to show that the officials were aware of wrongdoing at the drug’s maker, Purdue Pharma of Stamford, Conn.

So the Elston call may have actually worked. Meanwhile, here's the Justice Department's alibi.

Justice Department officials said it was not unusual for senior members to weigh in on major criminal cases, and a spokesman, Dean Boyd, said the department "encourages healthy internal debate and discussion on complex cases like this one."

Well, perhaps it SHOULD be unusual. Especially when you have a Justice Department as political as this one.

Others said Elston's timing and message were atypical. "Normally, there's a lot of deference given to U.S. attorneys in matters of timing," said Michael R. Bromwich, a former Justice Department inspector general. "The kind of micromanagement that this suggests could easily have a chilling effect in some circumstances."

Turns out that Paul McNulty was talking to the defense attorney in the case and relaying information through DoJ to the US Attorney Brownlee. That appears completely untoward, as if the DoJ is taking sides with the defense in a criminal case.

Wonder what Alberto Gonzales knew about this? Oh, wait, he doesn't know anything.

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