The Office of Professional Responsibility, reporting directly to the Attorney General, is responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct involving Department attorneys that relate to the exercise of their authority to investigate, litigate or provide legal advice, as well as allegations of misconduct by law enforcement personnel when they are related to allegations of attorney misconduct within the jurisdiction of OPR.
The Counsel for Professional Responsibility leads the Office of Professional Responsibility. Under the Counsel's direction, OPR reviews allegations of attorney misconduct involving violation of any standard imposed by law, applicable rules of professional conduct, or Departmental policy. When warranted, OPR conducts full investigations of such allegations, and reports its findings and conclusions to the Attorney General and other appropriate Departmental officials. The Office also serves as the Department's contact with state bar disciplinary organizations.
The Department of Justice Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) was created in 1975 as one response to the revelations of ethical abuses and misconduct by Department of Justice officials during the Watergate scandal. OPR reports directly to the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General. A Counsel and Deputy Counsel lead the Office and Associate Counsel and Assistant Counsel staff it.
OPR has jurisdiction to investigate allegations of misconduct involving Department attorneys that relate to the exercise of their authority to investigate, litigate or provide legal advice, as well as allegations of misconduct by law enforcement personnel when they related to allegations of attorney misconduct within the jurisdiction of OPR. The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) investigates allegations of misconduct by Department attorneys that do not fall within the jurisdiction of OPR and is required to notify OPR of the existence and results of any OIG investigation that reflects upon the professional ethics, competence or integrity of a Department attorney. In such cases, OPR takes appropriate action.
OPR's investigations involve a wide range of allegations, and the investigative methods used vary accordingly. The vast majority of complaints received by OPR each year are determined not to warrant investigation because, for example, the complaint is frivolous on its face, it is vague and unsupported by any evidence, or it is not within OPR’s jurisdiction. If OPR closes a matter without investigation this fact is recorded in OPR’s files and the attorney alleged to have engaged in misconduct receives no notice of the complaint.
In some cases, OPR determines it needs further information to resolve the matter. The first step is usually to request a written response from the attorney involved in the allegation. Respond promptly and thoroughly to requests for responses to allegations. Include supporting documentation and any other relevant material with the response, and identify other individuals with relevant information. However, in order to avoid any appearance of attempting to coordinate accounts, the attorney involved should not interview other witnesses or ask them to prepare written statements. The response should not be edited or revised by any other Department attorney or official. If an attorney’s trial schedule or other professional commitments preclude a response within the period requested, an extension of time may be arranged by contacting OPR.
In requesting a written response, OPR asks the attorney involved to provide pertinent information regarding his or her professional background and experience including his length of service and positions held with the Department. In order to determine what state bar rules may apply to the matter, OPR also asks the attorney involved to list each jurisdiction in which he or she maintains bar membership, regardless of his category of membership (e.g., active, inactive, associate, or some other membership category). In addition, OPR asks if the allegation has been reported in the public media, you provide copies of any such stories or broadcasts to OPR. This information is necessary in order to determine, when the matter is concluded, and whether preparation of a public summary is appropriate.
In the case of a self-referral or referral by a supervisor, it is not necessary to await OPR's request before sending explanatory material. A written response to an allegation may be sent in anticipation of OPR's request -- either at the time the allegation is reported to OPR, or as soon thereafter as it can be prepared.
In cases that cannot be resolved based on the written response and relevant documents, OPR conducts a full on-site investigation. Case files, investigative files, or other relevant documents may be reviewed. Interviews of witnesses with information relevant to the matter are conducted. Interviews are ordinarily conducted by two OPR attorneys. The complainant is usually interviewed first. Witnesses identified by the complainant and by OPR may be interviewed next. An employee being interviewed may take notes but may not tape record the interview. In addition, all complainant and witness interviews are ordinarily tape recorded. A copy of the tape recording is not ordinarily provided to the interviewee(s).
In general, after investigating an allegation of misconduct made against a Department of Justice attorney, OPR determines, based on all the facts found, whether the attorney committed professional misconduct in the exercise of his or her authority to investigate, litigate or provide legal advice. If OPR concludes that an attorney did not commit professional misconduct, OPR determines whether the attorney exercised poor judgment, engaged in other inappropriate conduct, made a mistake, or acted appropriately under all the circumstances.
All Department employees have a duty to cooperate with OPR investigations, and to give information that is complete and candid. Employees who refuse to cooperate with OPR investigations may be subject to formal discipline, including removal.
Updated: December 2010