Justice News

Attorney General Eric Holder Speaks at the 2010 Bench/Bar Conference in Pennsylvania
Skytop, PA
United States
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Friday, September 17, 2010

Thank you, Judge Nealon.  It’s always a privilege to see you, without having to appear before you, and so I hope you won’t mind standing with me for a few more minutes.

First of all, let me thank you for that generous introduction and – especially – for the stories you left out.  As Judge Nealon mentioned, we met early in my legal career, when he presided over the second case I ever tried.  I still haven’t forgotten his reverence for decorum, his command of process and procedure, and his compassion for every person who stood before him.  To me – a young, inexperienced prosecutor, still learning my way around a courtroom – he was patient and kind.  Above all, he was merciful.  As I struggled to keep the rules of evidence straight, there were moments when Judge Nealon was kind to me – perhaps even pitied me – but what I remember most is how much he inspired me.

Judge Nealon became one of my role models – the kind of public servant I hoped to become, and the kind of judge I tried to emulate once I was appointed to the bench.

Judge Nealon, for more than half a century, you’ve served as an example for your colleagues, and as a mentor for attorneys – in and beyond this room.  Today, it’s a special honor for me to present you with a Department of Justice Medallion of Service to mark your many contributions to this district and to our nation.  Back in 1962, President Kennedy made, what I believe to be, one of the best decisions of his career in appointing you to the bench.  That you are now one of the country’s longest-serving judges is proof of your extraordinary commitment to the people of this district and to the cause of justice. I hope this Medallion serves as a reminder that the American people, and the Attorney General of the United States, are in your debt.

Congratulations, and thank you.

I also want to thank the members of the Bench Bar Conference Committee and the Middle District Court for inviting me to join you today.   It’s good to be with you – and to be among so many distinguished leaders and old friends.

At events like this one, I’m reminded of just how remarkable the Department of Justice family is, and how fortunate we are to have so many partners across the nation – judges, private attorneys, and support staff – acting as stewards of our justice system.  In that spirit, I’d like to share with each of you a view of the Justice Department – its priorities, its progress, and its possibilities – from my perspective as Attorney General.  And I want to update you on some of the work being done to meet the goals, and responsibilities, that we share.

When I became Attorney General last year, I saw extraordinary opportunity.  And, with leaders across the Department, I’ve focused on two central goals: reinvigorating our traditional, and most fundamental, missions and reinventing ourselves for a new century – a century that presents new opportunities, as well as new threats. 

So, what does this mean? On one hand, over the last 20 months, we have renewed our long-term commitments to fight crime, to safeguard civil rights, to protect the environment, to defend the public fisc, to promote fairness in our markets, and to ensure that the security of our nation – and the safety of the American people – continues to be our highest priority.  On the other hand, we have made new commitments based on the oldest of Justice Department traditions: to make every decision based on facts, on the law, and on the latest and best evidence available; but also to invest in the scientific study and analysis necessary to improve these decisions; to harness the power of new 21st century technologies; to improve the efficiency of our operations; and to strengthen and expand our network of partners.

Now, it’s one thing to make a commitment.  It’s another to provide the resources and leadership necessary to make meaningful, measurable progress. Today’s Justice Department has done both. 

First of all, I’m proud to report that our Civil Rights Division has reaffirmed its role as the conscience of the Justice Department and as our nation’s finest civil rights litigation organization and enforcement agency.  Of course, there’s still work to be done.  But our strong enforcement efforts are protecting the rights of disabled Americans, institutionalized persons, voters, veterans, workers, and students.  We’re ensuring that religious freedoms for all of our citizens, as well as education and job opportunities, are protected.  And we’re making extraordinary progress in combating human trafficking, promoting fairness in our housing and lending markets, and protecting civil rights in our board rooms, voting booths, and border areas.

I also want to note the excellent work being done to combat hate crimes.  Last year, leaders across the Department worked tirelessly to advance the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act – one of the most significant new pieces of civil rights legislation enacted in decades.  Today, our prosecutors are doing excellent work to enforce this new law and to utilize the new tools it provides. 

Another significant example of progress is our comprehensive effort to address financial fraud.  The Department has committed record resources to this fight.  Through our leadership of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, through our U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, through our Criminal Division, and through our strong network of state and local partners, we’re working aggressively to uncover and investigate financial crimes, to bring criminals to justice, to return stolen funds to their rightful owners, and to safeguard taxpayer investments. 

In addition, through a new partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services, we’ve brought the full resources of the federal government to bear against those who illegally divert taxpayer resources from government-funded healthcare programs. Last year, the Department filed more than 800 indictments, and obtained nearly 600 convictions, for health care fraud-related charges.  And, over the past 20 months, the Department has recouped close to $3 billion in health care fraud cases through use of the False Claims Act.

We are also working with the Department of Housing and Urban Development and other partners to combat mortgage fraud, seek justice for victims, and prevent future schemes. 

Meanwhile, we have escalated another battle for justice on a very different front: child exploitation.  In federal courts here and across the country, child exploitation cases are skyrocketing.  But this summer, we struck back against the rising tide of child pornography trafficking – and sexual assault – with the first-ever National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction.  And for the first time, the Department is directing resources for the express purpose of reducing childhood exposure to violence and countering its negative impact.

In these efforts and all others, I am committed to ensuring integrity, transparency, and accountability at every level of the Department of Justice.  One key area of focus has been improving criminal discovery preparation and policy.  Of course, incidents of discovery failure by federal prosecutors are extraordinarily rare – and almost always the result of inadvertent error or oversight.  But any lapse must be taken seriously, and every precaution must be made.

That’s why the Department is taking steps to strengthen criminal discovery and case management policies and procedures.  In addition to developing a more consistent national approach, we are also enhancing training activities.

To date, more than 5,000 prosecutors, including all new AUSAs, have received criminal discovery training.  And, by developing and updating our training courses and manuals, we’re working to increase the availability of resources for prosecutors, paralegals, and law enforcement agents.

Over the past year, we have also been reevaluating federal sentencing and corrections policies to ensure that the proper balance is struck in promoting public safety, punishing criminals, avoiding unwarranted sentencing disparities, and reducing recidivism.  Recommendations are currently in development and will be released later this year, but we were – and we all should be – heartened by the recent passage of the Fair Sentencing Act.  The crack/powder sentencing disparity was a symbol of unfairness in our system and, though there’s more work to be done, its reduction is an encouraging step forward.

Another example of our direct engagement with a difficult issue is the work being done to ensure equal access to our justice system.  You all know what we’re up against.  Our indigent defense problem has reached crisis proportions.  And far too many public defender offices are underfunded and understaffed.

These are systemic problems.  And they call for reinvention, not merely reform.  That’s why the Department has made an historic and permanent commitment to expanding and ensuring access to legal services.  This spring, we established a new Access to Justice Office, led by Harvard Law Professor, Larry Tribe.  Through this landmark initiative, we are working to ensure that quality legal representation is available and accessible.  And I have no doubt that this effort will enhance our entire justice system.

Just a few months ago, Professor Tribe traveled to the Keystone State to discuss this work.  In Philadelphia, he invited your bench and bar colleagues to rethink what is possible for the future of our justice system.  And, today, I’d like to make the same request.

I ask, and I hope, that each of you will seek out and seize opportunities to strengthen our justice system – in your courtrooms, your casework, or through your pro bono work.  I look forward to discussing – this afternoon and in the days ahead – how we can collaborate more effectively in achieving our shared goals.

Together, I believe we can extend the traditions of service that define our country and run deep in Pennsylvania’s Middle District; the same traditions that are exemplified by Judge Nealon’s career and enhanced by every judge and attorney working to ensure the promise, strength, and integrity of our justice system.  I look forward to this work.  And I will continue to count on – and be grateful for – your commitment to it.

Once again, let me thank you for this opportunity to discuss the Justice Department’s activities, priorities and most fundamental responsibility: ensuring justice for all.  With your continued support – and, in some cases, your judicious oversight – I’m certain that we can, and that we will, deliver on this promise. 

Thank you.