Professional Responsibility

Law Prof: AG Testimony an Ethics Issue?

Just as a number of commentators were saying that U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales seemed to be recovering from the controversy over his management of the Justice Department, a new issue has arisen.

Based on the testimony last week of his former senior counsel, Monica Goodling, before the Senate Judiciary Committee, there is a question whether the AG’s conduct potentially presents a serious attorney ethics question, reports the New York Observer. Gonzales testified, during an April committee hearing, that “I haven’t talked to witnesses because of the fact that I haven’t wanted to interfere with this investigation and department investigations.” However, Goodling told the committee Gonzales said to her, in a March meeting, “Let me tell you what I can remember,” and “laid out his general recollection” that the dismissals of eight U.S. attorneys had been performance-related.

In a worst-case scenario, major attorney discipline could be at issue: “It depends crucially on what the facts are,” says David Luban, a Georgetown University Law Center professor. “Given the most unfavorable interpretation, there’s clearly a case for disbarment.”

However, that case is far from being made right now, says another academic. “The fact that Goodling recollects differently from Gonzales—who has himself been vague and inconsistent—does not create a perjury prosecution of either of them,” says Stephen Gillers, a professor at New York University School of Law. “People recall differently. Until we learn more—if we learn more—it would not be responsible to say that inconsistency means Gonzales committed perjury.”

Hat tip to Think Progress for bringing this article to our attention.

We welcome your comments, but please adhere to our comment policy and the ABA Code of Conduct.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.