Thursday, April 26, 2007
The heretofore little-known Office of Special Counsel should get a lot more publicity as it announced a broad investigation of possible misconduct related to the firing of at least one U.S. Attorney and other potential violations of the Hatch Act, including the conduct of senior White House aide Karl Rove. A Los Angeles Times story (here) notes that a spokesman for OSC stated that it is forming an internal task force to look into the following areas: "It will focus on whether White House political concerns improperly intruded on the decision to fire at least one U.S. attorney; whether Rove's office staff or others violated the Hatch Act in briefing Cabinet agency managers on political developments and Republican campaign goals; and whether the White House improperly used Republican National Committee e-mail accounts for official business."
For those who follow corruption investigations, the OSC is hardly a household name. According to its website (here), the small (106 employee) office "is an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency. Our basic authorities come from three federal statutes, the Civil Service Reform Act, the Whistleblower Protection Act, and the Hatch Act." Among its responsibilities are dealing with government whistleblowers and PPPs ("prohibited personnel practices" in the parlance of Washington anagrams), and dealing with possible Hatch Act violations, which involve prohibited political activities by government workers. The Special Counsel is Scott J. Bloch, who was appointed to the position for a five-year term by the President and approved by the Senate. According to his biography on the OSC website:
Mr. Bloch brings over 17 years of experience to the Office of Special Counsel, including litigation of employment, lawyer ethics, and complex cases before state courts, federal courts and administrative tribunals. He briefed and argued cases before state and federal appellate courts.
From 2001-2003, Mr. Bloch served as Associate Director and then Deputy Director and Counsel to the Task Force for Faith-based and Community Initiatives at the U.S. Department of Justice, where he worked on First Amendment cases, regulations, intergovernmental outreach, and programmatic initiatives. Before serving in the Justice Department, he was a partner with Stevens & Brand, LLP, of Lawrence, Kansas, where he practiced in the areas of civil rights law, employment law, and legal ethics. Mr. Bloch tried jury trials before state and federal courts, representing employees and employers in cases involving whistleblower and other retaliation claims, as well as civil rights claims. He worked on important cases that set precedents in the field of legal ethics, including a ground-breaking Texas case that changed the way plaintiffs’ lawyers handle mass tort cases.
Bloch does not have much direct prosecutorial experience, and this investigation will throw a spotlight on a small office at the center of media attention. How it does its job will be watched carefully. In addition, the constitutionality of the OSC has been questioned by Professor Michael Froomkin on the Discourse.Net blog. Professor Froomkin writes (here): "There’s some question as to whether this statute is constitutional; if it isn’t, then the whole office is unconstitutional and all its acts could be declared void." Getting bogged down in a constitutional fight won't make the investigation move any faster. (ph)