This column by ACRU Policy Board member J. Christian Adams was published September 29, 2017 by PJ Media.
President Trump has nominated a slate of solid picks for the federal bench, including a new list of nominees this week. Among them is Kurt D. Engelhardt.
Trump nominated Engelhardt to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, a district that covers the area from Alabama to the Rio Grande. Engelhardt already serves as a United States District Court judge in New Orleans.
Engelhardt will be familiar to PJ Media readers.
He is the judge who wrote a scathing 129-page order blistering the misconduct of lawyers at the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the local New Orleans U.S. Attorney’s Office in a prosecution of New Orleans police officers. His order offers a look behind the curtain of some of the worst ideological misconduct that occurred at the Obama DOJ.
Misconduct may be an inadequate word to describe the behavior of DOJ lawyers, and Engelhardt saw it all up close. See PJ Media’s “Justice Dept. Lawyer Karla Dobinski’s Misconduct Sends Cops to Prison,” or Hans von Spakovsky writing at National Review: “Grotesque DOJ Misconduct“.
Here’s von Spakovsky on the Holder DOJ’s skullduggery and Engelhardt’s opinion:
Trying to figure out what the prosecutors had done sent the court “on a legal odyssey unlike any other.” But that legal odyssey led the judge on September 17 to grant a new trial to the New Orleans police officers. It is the first time, according to Judge Engelhardt, that federal “prosecutors acting with anonymity used social media to circumvent ethical obligations, professional responsibilities, and even to commit violations of the Code of Federal Regulations.”
The 129-page order, which details the misbehavior of the Louisiana DOJ lawyers and the Civil Rights Division’s Dobinski, is appalling reading. And it isn’t just that Dobinski was a high-level Justice Department lawyer who was posting anonymous blogs about the trial. She also encouraged other anonymous bloggers, who “repeatedly posted vigorous pro-prosecution statements strongly condemning the defendants, their witnesses, and their entire defense.”
If you want to see the corrupt depths that ideological lawyers in the Holder Justice Department would plumb to convict cops, read Engelhardt’s entire order.
It is a tale of deliberate and deceptive violation of the constitutional rights of police officers in order to get a conviction at any price, and of lying to the court. It is a cautionary tale of civil rights enforcement run amok from ideologically driven hatred of police — an issue that even this week continues to resonate in America.
As I wrote at PJ Media, one of the lawyers, Barbara “Bobbi” Bernstein, was criticized by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals for misleading Englehardt. Did her behavior hurt her career?
Quite the contrary:
Bernstein even received an award from Attorney General Eric Holder and now-Labor Secretary Tom Perez for her work after the New Orleans police trial where she made statements to the federal judge later proved to be false.
Not only did the DOJ lawyers engage in an anonymous internet campaign against the police, the Justice Department engaged in a broader abuse of power in the prosecution. Again, the federal appeals court:
[A]t least one cooperating defendant felt coerced into pleading guilty, that the sentences meted out to defendants were shockingly disparate, that FBI Agent William Bezak had used coercive tactics against a defense witness, and that the defense was deprived of live testimony by at least three witnesses who refused to testify at trial when DOJ targeted them for possible perjury charges.
Bernstein is still employed at the Civil Rights Division.
Ironically, Bernstein’s boss is now one Tamara Kessler, an ideological partisan and law enforcement foe in her own right, whom the Obama Civil Rights Division politicos burrowed into a career civil service position at the end of the administration. (Hans von Spakovsky and I have each chronicled Ms. Kessler’s lengthy swamp pedigree before.)
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals also got a taste of the Justice Department misconduct and upheld Engelhardt’s dismissal of charges against the police. Upholding Engelhardt, the Fifth Circuit wrote:
These prosecutors created an air of bullying against the defendants whose rights they, especially Dobinski, were sworn to respect.
Just as a mob protesting outside the courthouse has the potential to intimidate parties and witnesses, so do streams of adverse online comments. The impact is felt not only by the defendants but by codefendants pressed to plead guilty or defense witnesses dissuaded from testifying. Preventing mob justice is precisely the goal of prosecutorial ethical constraints.
Of course, mob justice is not so out of fashion as it once was.
Police groups should take note, and thank the president for the Engelhardt nomination. So should regular Americans who appreciate the men and women who serve as a thin blue line between civilization and anarchy.