WASHINGTON - The Justice Department has agreed to pay for a private
lawyer to defend former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales against
allegations that he encouraged officials to inject partisan politics
into the department's hiring and firing practices.
Lawyers from the Justice Department's civil division often represent
department employees who're sued in connection with their official
actions. However, Gonzales' attorney recently revealed in court papers
that the Justice Department had approved his request to pay private
attorney's fees arising from the federal lawsuit.
Metcalfe, a former high-ranking veteran Justice Department official who
filed the suit on behalf of eight law students, called the department's
decision to pay for a private attorney rather than rely on its civil
"It undoubtedly will cost the taxpayers far more," he said.
to a person with knowledge of the case, the Justice Department has
imposed a limit of $200 an hour or $24,000 a month on attorneys' fees.
Top Justice Department attorneys generally earn no more than $100 per
hour. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the
sensitivity of the case.
Asked why Gonzales made the request,
Gonzales spokesman Robert Bork Jr. said that his client "values the
work that the department's civil attorneys do in all cases" but thinks
that "private counsel can often be useful where (department) officials
are sued in an individual capacity, even where the suit has no
Charles Miller, a Justice Department
spokesman, said the department wouldn't have any comment on the reasons
for the approval and wouldn't answer questions about the cost to
The lawsuit accuses Gonzales and four other former and
current Justice Department officials of instituting hiring practices
that blocked liberal-leaning applicants from two department programs
for law students. Gonzales resigned last year amid a controversy over
the alleged hiring practices and over the firings of nine U.S.
George J. Terwilliger III, a former deputy attorney
general under President George H.W. Bush, is listed in court papers
along with two other attorneys from his firm as representing Gonzales
in the lawsuit.
It's unclear, however, whether Terwilliger will
continue to represent Gonzales or whether another private attorney will
take over the case. In court papers, he indicated that the department
had to approve Gonzales' choice of an attorney, but added that the
department generally defers to the defendant.
Miller wouldn't say
whether other defendants in the suit have asked the department to pay
for private attorneys. So far, other officials named in the lawsuit
haven't indicated to the court whether they've made similar requests.
filed the lawsuit after Justice Department watchdog reports found that
department officials under Gonzales weeded out liberal-leaning
applicants in favor of conservative ones for various jobs ranging from
internships to prosecutor slots and immigration judgeships. In a
separate but related report, the two watchdog agencies detailed
"substantial evidence" that Republican politics had played a role in
several of the firings of the Bush-appointed U.S. attorneys.
applicants who've sued are all from top-tier law schools, and they
allege that their careers were irreparably harmed because they were
rejected by the department's honors and summer internship programs.
Metcalfe, who's now the executive director of American University
Washington College of Law's Collaboration on Government Secrecy, is
seeking class action status for the suit.
Michael Mukasey, who took over the department after Gonzales resigned
during the controversy, has conceded that high-ranking Justice
Department officials failed to stop what he described as a "systemic"
hiring problem within the department.
Mukasey, however, rejected
what he described as "drastic steps" such as prosecuting department
lawyers singled out in the reports. He said he'd put a stop to the
practices and would attempt to contact applicants who'd been rejected
for political reasons and encourage them to reapply for other jobs.
department sent out letters notifying applicants of the opportunity,
but gave them only weeks to respond, according to its Web site. The Web
site said that applicants were interviewed last month, but Miller
wouldn't say how many people responded.
In court papers, Metcalfe
criticized the department's handling of the letters. Several of the
rejected applicants contacted him after receiving them, worried that if
they agreed to be re-interviewed they might lose their right to
participate in a class action lawsuit. Metcalfe questioned why the
department hadn't informed the applicants about the suit.