Department of Justice Seal

Talking Points
of Deputy Attorney General
Larry D. Thompson
EOUSA Office of Legal Education
August 28, 2001

Welcome to the Office of Legal Education's series on professional responsibility and ethics issues affecting Department Attorneys, both Assistant United States Attorneys and Department of Justice Attorneys. I am honored to be addressing so many individuals dedicated to the pursuit of justice.

Department Attorneys possess extraordinary powers that can be used in the pursuit of justice. In achieving justice, it is important to maintain the public's confidence. In order to maintain that confidence, we must hold ourselves to the highest ethical and professional standards.

The vast majority of Department Attorneys conduct themselves in accordance with the highest ethical standards. However, the Department is an increasingly large organization in which, unfortunately, a few lawyers have run afoul of ethics provisions--most often inadvertently but sometimes deliberately. When this occurs, however infrequently, it is serious.

We at the Department hope to make these infractions obsolete through educational efforts such as this video series.

In the recent past, Department Attorneys have been subject to both new duties and increased accountability for existing ethical duties. For example, Section 530B requires Department Attorneys to comply with state laws and rules and local federal court rules in each state where the Department Attorney engages in that attorney's duties. Since its passage, 530B has generated a considerable amount of attention in the federal law enforcement community, the criminal defense bar, and even the national media.

As department attorneys, it is our obligation to abide by all the applicable rules and hold ourselves to the highest standards, so that we may retain the public's trust.

The Hyde Amendment is an example of Department Attorneys' increased accountability for existing duties. Under the Hyde Amendment, the United States can now be found financially liable for attorneys' fees and other litigation expenses if its position is found to be vexatious, frivolous or in bad faith, unless the court finds that special circumstances make such an award unjust. While we have always been responsible for exercising our prosecutorial powers properly, the government is now financially liable for any abuse of those powers.

Since the Hyde Amendment was signed into law on November 26, 1997, the United States has filed nearly two hundred thousand criminal cases in federal courts. Yet, as of May 25, 2001, only one hundred nine Hyde Amendment claims have been filed and reported to the Legal Counsel's Office, at the Executive office for U.S. Attorneys. Of those one hundred nine claims, the United States has won sixty-four cases and lost twelve, while one claim ended in settlement. Some of these cases are still pending on appeal. During this same time period, the United States has paid over one million dollars in attorneys' fees and litigation expenses under the Hyde Amendment. Those fees and expenses are the result of only one settlement and four losses. This shows how even a very small number of cases can result in significant costs to the United States not only in attorneys' fees but also in the cost of office of professional responsibility investigations of prosecutorial conduct. Prevention is the better option.

These examples are only two of the better known obligations that Department Attorneys bear. As your professional responsibility and ethical obligations evolve, it is in the Department's interest to keep you informed of them.

Today's video is one way that we can keep you informed. This first video begins with an overview of the offices that offer guidance on ethical or professional responsibility issues.

The video also provides an overview of certain significant ethical and professional responsibility issues. We anticipate developing future videos to cover some of these topics in further detail.

Thank you for your hard work on behalf of the Department. Each and every one of you plays an important part in the Department's national law enforcement efforts. We appreciate your interest in these issues and I wish you the best of luck as you continue in the pursuit of justice.