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2015 Investigative Summary 4

Investigation of Alleged Failure to Comply with DOJ Press Guidelines

A district judge complained to OPR that during a criminal trial, a DOJ attorney posted on social media inappropriate comments criticizing the judge, the defendant, and defense counsel. The court found the comments prejudicial and granted a mistrial. OPR initiated an inquiry, which was later converted to an investigation.

The DOJ attorney admitted, to both the court and OPR that she had posted on social media inappropriate comments about a trial while the trial was in progress. OPR credited the DOJ attorney's explanation, however, that she believed that her social media posts were visible only to her social media friends, none of whom had any connection to the case. OPR therefore concluded that the DOJ attorney did not engage in intentional misconduct, as she apparently did not recognize that her posts would violate Department policy governing public statements on a pending criminal case.

Nevertheless, OPR concluded that the DOJ attorney acted in reckless disregard of her obligations as a Department attorney by publicly disseminating extrajudicial statements regarding a pending case, in violation of the Department's Guidance on the Personal Use of Social Media, as well as the regulations governing public statements set forth in the U.S. Attorneys' Manual and the Code of Federal Regulations. OPR also concluded that by making inappropriate comments online about the presiding judge, defense counsel, and the defendant during the trial, the DOJ attorney engaged in conduct that was detrimental to the interests of the Department.

Because of the DOJ attorney's online comments, the court declared a mistrial, and the government ultimately extended a more favorable plea offer than it otherwise would have, had the online postings not become an issue in the case.

OPR referred its findings to the PMRU, which upheld OPR's findings of professional misconduct and imposed an 8-day suspension without pay.

Updated July 13, 2021