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Multiple Legal Experts Back Perez Actions

May 7, 2013
Press Release

Washington, D.C. —Today, statements, testimony, and letters from multiple legal experts were produced at a joint hearing of the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees supporting the actions of Tom Perez, head of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, and rejecting Republican allegations that Mr. Perez inappropriately coordinated a quid pro quo agreement with the City of St. Paul in which the Department declined to intervene in two False Claims Act cases in exchange for St. Paul withdrawing a separate case before the Supreme Court.

  • Professor Stephen Gillers, who has taught legal ethics for more than 30 years at New York University School of Law, wrote that a Republican report issued last month suggesting that Mr. Perez acted improperly “cites no professional conduct rule, no court decision, no bar ethics opinion, and no secondary authority that supports this argument.”  The reason, he explained, is that “no authority supports it.”
  • Shelley Slade, an attorney with 20 years of experience in False Claims Act cases, stated in her written testimony:  “I am confident that the actions taken by the Civil Division officials with regard to the Newell qui tam case, including the factors that were considered in the declination decision, were fully consistent with the law, as well as ethical and professional obligations…. If my law firm had been contacted about taking on this case, we would have rejected it.”
  • Ben Vernia, a practicing False Claims Act attorney and writer of the legal blog, falseclaimscounsel.com, wrote a letter to the Committees citing the “prominent weakness” of the case and explaining that even an early document prepared by Department attorneys initially favoring intervention “acknowledges several significant potential problems with the case – problems that clearly rebut the conclusion that the case was a ‘strong’ one.” 
  • Gary Azorsky and Jeanne Markey, co-chairs of the Whistleblower/False Claims Act practice Group at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, PLLC, wrote a letter to the Committees disputing Republican claims that the Department of Justice gave up the opportunity to recover as much as $200 million:  “In fact, in declining to intervene in these actions, it ‘gave up’ no rights or opportunities at all.’”

A memo issued by Democratic staff on April 14, 2013, reviewing all of the evidence before the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees concluded that “rather than identifying any unethical or improper actions by the Department, the overwhelming evidence obtained during this investigation indicates that Mr. Perez and other Department officials acted professionally to advance the interests of civil rights and effectively combat the scourge of discrimination in housing.”  The memo also found that “the evidence demonstrates that the Department’s decisions not to intervene in unrelated False Claims Act cases were based on the recommendations of senior career officials who are regarded as the nation’s preeminent experts in their field.”

Oversight Committee Ranking Member Elijah E. Cummings’s opening statement for today’s hearing stated:  “The problem with the Republican theory is that Mr. Perez did nothing wrong.  He obtained clearance from ethics officials at the Department, he coordinated properly with the head of the Civil Division, and he and others at the Department relied on career experts with decades of experience who concluded, after a careful review of the evidence, that the False Claims Act cases were too weak to recommend that the government expend the resources to litigate them.”

Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr.’s opening statement stated:  “After extensive investigation—including review of thousands of documents and nearly a dozen interviews with Administration officials—there is no evidence that the Justice Department acted improperly in considering the case before us today.  There is no evidence of a so-called ‘quid pro quo.’  And the courts have not yet determined that Mr. Newell—who will testify here today—is, in fact, a whistleblower.  Unnecessarily provocative language demeans the seriousness of the work we do in our committees.  Our job is to uncover the facts, and then draw conclusions—not the other way around.”

In his opening statement, Subcommittee Ranking Member Matt Cartwright said:  “An honest assessment of the evidence before us shows that DOJ behaved properly and defensibly in its decision to not intervene in Mr. Newell’s case.  The decision was based on relevant consideration of legal, factual and policy factors.  Further, there is no reason to question the integrity of the process at DOJ, the career attorneys that recommended declining intervention, DOJ’s actions in the Magner case, or the leadership of Mr. Perez.”

Ranking Member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice Jerrold Nadler said in his opening statement:  “Assistant Attorney General Perez has done a tremendous job leading the Civil Rights Division, and it is long past time to end the smear campaign against him.  We should all be thankful for his service and look forward to his stewardship as Secretary of Labor.  We do not serve the public interest by holding this hearing as part of a shameful smear campaign.”

Issues: 
113th Congress