U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) efforts to squelch whistleblowing in its own ranks suffered a setback in June. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia stopped the agency’s efforts to silence former DOJ prosecutor Richard Convertino in a long-fought case against the agency. Richard Convertino, an accomplished former Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutor, has been fighting a tangled legal battle over the Privacy Act for almost a decade against his former employer.
Convertino already was an award-winning prosecutor when he took the lead in several complicated post-9/11 anti-terror cases at DOJ. His troubles began after he revealed questionable handling of terrorism prosecutions by then Attorney General John Ashcroft. High-ranking DOJ officials initiated a political vendetta against Convertino in 2003 by leaking false and damaging information about him to David Ashenfelter, reporter with the Detroit Free Press.
Countering DOJ, Convertino lodged a complaint under the Privacy Act to protect his rights as a whistleblower and to sanction those intimidating him in his efforts to identify specific leakers. A district court threw out his Privacy Act case, a decision he then appealed. On June 22 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed that decision and reinstated his complaint.
Convertino’s setback in district court had come at the hands of Chief U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth. The decision hinged on an apparently arbitrary pretext regarding the Court’s unwillingness to allow the civil case to “drag on”. Lamberth asserted that after seven years of litigation, Convertino’s legal efforts were “no closer to answering the most basic question of all: Who done it?” To date, Convertino has been unsuccessful in unmasking the leaker(s).
In this latest reversal, the Court of Appeals upheld Convertino’s right to pursue his complaint, establishing that “there is ample evidence to suggest that additional investigation could reveal the source’s identity.” The appellate ruling now requires that DOJ officials up to and including Attorney General Holder immediately reverse the Department’s position in Convertino’s case and join the plaintiff in identifying who violated the Privacy Act and other whistleblower protections.
DOJ efforts to suppress Convertino’s case have not been limited to impeding his Privacy Act complaint. They have gone after him with a variety of legal harassments. Most brazenly, in 2006, a federal grand jury falsely charged Convertino. He was accused of deliberately hiding photographic evidence from defense attorneys in the prosecution and convictions of alleged sleeper cell terrorists in Detroit in 2003. It took a Detroit federal court jury less than a day to acquit Convertino and federal agent Ray Smith in the face of charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and making a false declaration to the court. It has yet to be seen whether DOJ will mend its ways in the Convertino matter.