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December 19, 2016

Assistant U.S. Attorney Apologizes For Criticisms of Federal Prosecutors

Leslie Caldwell appears to be conflicted — and understandably so.

At last week’s Federalist Society event, “The Limits of Federal Criminal Law,” Caldwell, the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division at the U.S. Department of Justice, spoke clearly about concerns she had with the prosecutorial tactics of some U.S. Attorney offices around the country.  

“Having been in this job for two and a half years and having previously been a federal prosecutor and also having been a partner at a law firm where I specialized in white collar crime, I have seen a wide variation around the country among U.S. Attorney offices in their experience level, the quality of the lawyers that they have, the resources they have to investigate cases,” said Caldwell.

She added: “I acknowledge that there are cases that get filed that shouldn’t be filed.”

We posted about that event here, noting Caldwell’s comments, as well as those of the defense attorneys on the panel, some of whom had all won high-profile court cases representing corporate defendants. As we noted previously, those defense attorneys were highly critical of federal prosecutors and their tactics.

Those criticisms were tough, fair and hard to argue with. Hence, Caldwell’s candid comments about her concerns with some of her fellow prosecutors.

Understandably, her comments upset the apple cart within the federal prosecutorial community.

As such, a few days ago Caldwell released an apology letter to all the U.S. attorney offices around the country for the remarks she made at the Federalist Society event.

“I write to apologize to each of you for the remarks I made,’’ wrote Caldwell. “I deeply regret my remarks and the genuine hurt they have caused. As a federal prosecutor for 19 years… I know better.’’

The Wall Street Journal took note of Caldwell’s letter, reporting that it “may end up serving as a capstone to what has been a thorny issue for the Justice Department during the Obama administration — the investigations of major corporations. 

We can understand Caldwell’s dilemma, but we can’t help but wonder why she did not dispute or retract her comments? Maybe, although there are many good, well-meaning prosecutors, she knows there was a level of truth to her claims?

The stories of victims of prosecutorial abuse — not just limited to those shared at last week’s event — are heart-wrenching.

Those who are wrongly prosecuted go through a great ordeal. In the case of Vascular Solutions, for example, it wasn’t just the company that faced prosecution — it was the individual owner, Howard Root, himself.

Defending criminal charges is a daunting challenge. That’s why many innocent parties have pleaded guilty in the face of prosecution.

Even those who beat the government, however, are left with no recourse — and hefty legal and reputational costs.

The criticisms leveled at the Federalist Society event were legitimate, as were Caldwell’s comments.

But her apologize appears sincere, and should be accepted.

These are serious problems that deserve serious, thoughtful consideration from all sides of this issue. 

And it’s clear that major changes need to be made.

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