Under fire, Justice Department appoints new ethics enforcer

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric Holder picked a longtime prosecutor Wednesday to oversee internal ethics investigations as part of a larger reshuffling of the Justice Department staff.

The announcement that Washington prosecutor Mary Patrice Brown will serve as acting head of the Office of Professional Responsibility came the day after a federal judge set aside a jury's guilty verdict and the indictment against former Sen. Ted Stevens. The judge announced that he was naming a special prosecutor to investigate whether Justice Department attorneys had broken the law by failing to ensure that the Alaska Republican got a fair trial.

Holder, who worked alongside Brown in the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, said Brown had the "highest integrity" and would be a good fit for the sensitive post.

"I trust her sense of fairness and judgment implicitly."

Brown will become the third person to head the office, which was created in 1975. She'll succeed H. Marshall Jarrett, a former career prosecutor who headed the office for more than 10 years. As part of Holder's reorganization, Jarrett was named to oversee the 93 U.S. attorneys — another key position in the department. Kenneth Melson, who now holds that post — the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys — has been named the acting chief of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

OPR oversees mostly secret investigations of the conduct of Justice Department lawyers with some of the most serious allegations being referred by federal judges or other attorneys.

Under Jarrett, the office jointly investigated former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' firing of nine U.S. attorneys with the Justice Department's watchdog, the Inspector General. Jarrett and Inspector General Glenn Fine found that partisan politics played a role in several of the ousters. Separately, the pair also concluded that top aides to Gonzales violated federal laws and Justice Department policies by selecting employees based on their conservative and Republican leanings.

OPR also has reportedly concluded an inquiry into the conduct of former Justice Department lawyers who helped craft the Bush administration's controversial and widely repudiated justification for interrogation practices of overseas terrorism suspects.

However, the investigation has been kept secret and became the subject of criticism by Democratic senators because Holder's predecessor, Michael Mukasey, delayed the completion of the report. In a break with tradition, the subjects of the investigation also were permitted to read a draft of the results and comment on it.


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