SACRAMENTO — The Pacific Justice Institute, a non-profit legal defense organization based in Sacramento, Calif., is launching a nationwide grassroots movement seeking official sanctions against 33 United States Department of Justice attorneys for switching sides in Defense of Marriage Act cases.
According to a press release from PJI, 33 DOJ attorneys “double-crossed” their client, the United States, not only by ceasing to defend DOMA but by proceeding to file papers on behalf of the plaintiff.
“Government lawyers are essentially rising from the table for the counsel for the defendant, walking across the courtroom and sitting down at the plaintiff’s table,” PJI chief counsel Kevin Snider said in the release. “What the DOJ has done would be unthinkable for any other lawyers and raises serious concerns that professional rules and ethics are being violated.”
On Feb. 23, 2011, Attorney General Eric Holder wrote a letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner, stating that President Obama and he had determined section 3 of DOMA to be unconstitutional and that the DOJ would cease to defend cases related to Section 3.
“… Section 3 of DOMA may not be constitutionally applied to same-sex couples whose marriages are legally recognized under state law … the Department will cease its defense of section 3 in such cases.”
Since then, 18 DOMA cases in 10 jurisdictions have been affected by the change.
“Under the rules of professionalism, it is not a defense to say, ‘my boss told me to,'” Snider said Tuesday in a phone interview with The Universe. “They’re still an officer of the court and have obligations to their client. What their boss says doesn’t excuse them.”
Snider said the problem is not that the attorneys ceased defending DOMA but rather that they took “an aggressive position against their client.”
“The cases should have been handled better. (The attorneys) should have withdrawn from the case and substituted someone else in, they should have sat down and shut up, basically,” Snider said. “You can’t starting fighting against your former client.”
Snider said PJI is calling on the public to sign a formal complaint against the attorneys at pacificjustice.org/no-way-doj.
“The Department of Justice is in charge of defending the United States. In this case, the United States is the defendant, so there’s really nobody to be able to jump and do something,” Snider said. “That’s where the public and the citizens come in.”
Formal complaints will be filed through state bar organizations within the next three to four weeks, Snider said.
Numerous calls to various attorneys’ offices were not returned. Calls and emails to the public affairs department at the Department of Justice offices in Washington, D.C., were not returned. Tom Carson, Public Affairs representative for the U.S. Attorney’s Office Connecticut district, declined comment. Jack Gillund, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office Northern California District, said attorneys are not allowed to comment on ongoing cases or cases that might affect ongoing cases.
“Under federal law, we are not allowed to talk about ongoing cases,” Gillund said Monday in a phone interview. “We can’t appear to be influencing the court. … We are trying to protect people’s right and make sure everyone gets a fair trial.”
Both Snider and PJI president Brad Dacus said regardless of the reasoning, the attorneys’ behavior was unacceptable.
“It is bad enough for the Department of Justice to abandon its clients, but it is unethical and sanctionable for those attorneys to switch sides and ask for judgment leading to damages and attorneys’ fees against their own clients,” Dacus said in a press release. “We are calling on state bar authorities to simply undertake the same investigation and disciplinary actions they should take against any other lawyers who fragrantly violate their duties of client loyalty.”