Justice Department looking to employ experienced attorneys… for free

Caroline May | Reporter

The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice is looking to hire experienced, full-time, bar-certified lawyers. The catch: These attorneys will not be paid.

“The division is seeking experienced attorneys for uncompensated Special Attorney employment in the [Federal Coordination and Compliance Section (FCS)],” a DOJ job posting for three positions read.

The FCS works to ensure that all federal agencies apply and enforce civil rights statutes that prohibit discrimination.

These unpaid, experienced attorneys will be providing legal counsel and assistance to federal civil rights offices, conducting negotiations, legal research, some litigation, and investigations under Title VI and the Safe Streets Act, among other tasks, according to the posting.

According to a Justice Department spokesperson, the department has started to hire unpaid staff as a way to deal with the budget constraints imposed by sequestration and other budget cuts, which have resulted in a hiring freeze.

“Department of Justice divisions have begun a pilot program that allows lawyers to gain public service experience while providing valuable support to the Justice Department as we continue to address the staffing challenges imposed by sequestration and still fulfill our commitment to protect the American people,” the Justice Department spokesman wrote to The Daily Caller in an email.

“The Special Attorney program is modeled on the successful Special Assistant U.S. Attorney (SAUSA) program utilized by U.S. Attorney offices across the country since 1994,” the spokesperson added. “While the Civil Rights and Criminal Divisions are the first to advertise, we expect other divisions to post similar positions in the future.”

The spokesperson claimed that budget cuts have resulted in a loss of some 2,500 staffers since January 2011.

While the Justice Department says it is hiring as a way to deal with budget cuts, former DOJ civil rights lawyer J. Christian Adams sees the unpaid positions as an attempt by the Justice Department and assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division Thomas E. Perez to get around the appropriations process.

“Holder has been agitating for more lawyer slots in the Civil Rights Division,” Adams told TheDC. “Congress has wisely decided against giving this mischievous department more money for more lawyers. What Perez is doing here is an end around Congress. “

Adams, the author of “Injustice: Exposing the Racial Agenda of the Obama Justice Department,” further noted that lawyers willing to work for free are more likely to have ideological backgrounds and be a “crusader in the cause” — holding Perez and Holder’s vision of civil rights.

According to Adams — who resigned from the department in 2010 over frustrations with its handling of the New Black Panther Party voting intimidation case — the jobs are “all about propagandizing” other federal agencies.

Bradley Schlozman, former acting head of the Civil Rights Division in the Bush administration, on the other hand, said that the practice of hiring unpaid attorneys has actually become common, and cited the aforementioned U.S. Attorney’s Office as an example.

“A lot of federal agencies and the Justice Department are doing this — the U.S. Attorney’s Office for example — because of the cut backs,” he said. “As appropriate as that might be, offices are going and getting volunteer work from attorneys who are coming in there and prosecuting cases and functioning just like normal assistant U.S. attorneys, for example, and they are treated the same in every way except they are not paid.”

Schlozman added that with the current scarcity of legal jobs, attorneys looking for work might consider an unpaid position with the Justice Department to be a stepping stone.

“It’s a mechanism for getting people to increase the number of cases that you can take, and so they are getting completely free help,” he said, noting that it is “extraordinary” that bar-certified lawyers would decide to work for free.

“It is a statement of how kind of desperate these kind of individuals are and what the department is willing to do to increase its resources in times of austerity,” he said.

Schlozman added that under the Bush administration, the Justice Department had unpaid law school interns and some paid interns, but they never employed full-time unpaid attorneys.

According to Adams, while he has never seen a job posting like this, the practice is probably not illegal as “they’re not going to do this if it’s illegal.”

Schlozman concurred, saying that while he could not immediately recall a statute allowing for this, it is probably not illegal.

Hans von Spakowsky, senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation and former counsel to the assistance attorney general for civil rights under the Bush administration, however, called the job posting one of the “weirdest things he’s seen,” and unlike Adams and Schlozman said that the practice was likely illegal.

Spakowsky pointed to two federal statutes that the practice might violate, sections 31 USC § 1342 and 31 USC § 1341 — which limit the amount of voluntary services the federal government may accept and limit federal expenditures, respectively.

“I just find this absolutely nutty that they are offering something like this,” he said.

DOJ is accepting applications for the position through July 31. The Justice Department did not answer how many, if any, attorneys have applied.

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