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If a Judge Can’t Get Action, Who Can?

When a federal judge makes troubling allegations concerning misconduct by federal prosecutors, it’s only reasonable to expect the government--in this case the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility--to respond with a swift and thorough investigation.

That’s what should have happened in 1990 when Judge James M. Ideman of the U.S. District Court here in Los Angeles asked that office to look into his finding that a federal prosecutor had withheld exculpatory evidence from defense attorneys and then lied about it during a racketeering case, which Ideman later dismissed.

Two weeks ago--nearly 40 months after he first complained--a fed-up Ideman issued a stinging rebuke of the Justice Department and what he called the “whitewash” investigation it had conducted. His statement apparently was responsible, at least in part, for Atty. Gen. Janet Reno’s announcement last Tuesday of “more responsive” policy governing investigations of government attorneys accused of ethical misconduct.

Reno’s response is welcome. And Ideman deserves credit for speaking out and turning heads in Washington. However, there’s still no explanation for why the Justice Department apparently turned a blind eye to judges’ complaints about prosecutors in cases including the El Rukns street gang prosecution in Chicago and the deportation trial of alleged war criminal John Demjanjuk. If government won’t respond properly to federal judges, just who will it respond to?

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