Wednesday, June 25, 2008
The District of Columbia Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit discrimination in employment with the following language:
A lawyer shall not discriminate against any individual in conditions of employment because of the individual’s race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, sexual orientation, family responsibility, or physical handicap.
The prohibition, so far as I am aware, has never resulted in public discipline against a member of the D.C. Bar. The rule came to mind as I reflect on the report of D.O.J. Inspector General Glenn A. Fine finding employment discrimination in the Department of Justice honors and intern programs. By its language, discrimination based on inferred political leanings or affiliations would not appear to violate the letter of the rule. However, to the extent such discrimination constitutes criminal or otherwise improper conduct (such as violation of Department regulations), it might well violate D.C. Rule 8.4(b) (criminal conduct that reflects adversely on honesty, trustworthiness or fitness to practice in other respects) or (d)(conduct that seriously interferes with the administration of justice).
A web search (apparently a favorite tool for detecting political persuasion not apparent from a resume) for information about the two attorneys who were found to have discriminated reveals that both have left the Department of Justice and one is a practicing member of the D.C. Bar. I would expect the District of Columbia Bar Counsel to open a confidential investigation of this attorney in light of the Inspector General's findings. The Bar Counsel has the authority (and, in my view, the obligation) to proceed even without a formal complaint under the following Board on Professional Responsibility Rule:
An investigation may be initiated on the basis of a complaint or on the basis of any alleged ground for discipline coming to the attention of Bar Counsel or the Board from any source whatsoever.
Whether or not such an investigation goes anywhere remains to be seen. I have always favored open access to matters that result in dismissal so that the public could understand the basis of a Bar Counsel decision not to institute charges. I doubt the present rule (D.C. App. R. XI, section 17) that accords confidentiality to dismissal letters will change in the foreseeable future. (Mike Frisch)