(Reprinted from the Drug Policy Foundation's monthly Network news. Subscribe online at http://www.dpf.org.)
Federal prosecutors will have to follow the same ethical standards and rules that govern other attorneys in the state in which they are practicing if new legislation gets signed into law. The provision, the "Citizens Protection Act of 1998" (Title VIII), was authored by Reps. Joseph McDade (R-PA) and John P. Murtha (D-PA), and passed by the House on August 6 as part of the Justice Department appropriations bill (H.R. 4276).
Until 1994, federal prosecutors were governed by state ethics rules, but in that year the Justice Department issued a regulation that exempted federal prosecutors from certain provisions of the rules. At this time, according to the American Bar Association, state disciplinary authorities are prevented from taking action against a federal prosecutor for violating a state ethics rule until the Attorney General finds a prosecutor guilty of a willful violation.
In addition to requiring federal prosecutors to be subject to state ethics rules, the McDade/Murtha bill establishes punishable conduct for Justice Department employees, penalties for violations, and a "Misconduct Review Board" to investigate alleged prosecutorial misconduct. Such misconduct includes, among others: seeking the indictment of a person in the absence of probable cause; intentionally misleading the court as to the guilt of a person; knowingly misstating evidence; and offering sexual activities to a government witness.
On August 6, the Washington Times published an op-ed ("Reclaiming Justice," p. A19) by syndicated columnist Paul Craig Roberts praising the McDade/Murtha legislation. Notedly, Roberts blamed the war on drugs for an increase in unethical behavior among federal prosecutors. He wrote, "A former U.S. Attorney confessed to me that the Justice Department lost its prosecutorial integrity when the conservatives' war on drugs resulted in an increase in the number of assistant U.S. attorneys from 1,200 to more than 7,000 almost overnight. Swamped by new infusions, the old guard was unable to moderate the career ambitions of the newcomers by inculcating the respect for truth that restrains prosecutorial power."