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Justice in the Inslaw case

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Justice in the Inslaw Case
Published: December 7, 1991

The case of Inslaw Inc. is either the most overblown event in recent Justice Department annals or a scandal that echoes Watergate. It’s long past time to find out which, as the new Attorney General, William Barr, has recognized in a statesmanlike action. He has named Nicholas Bua, a highly respected retired Federal judge from Chicago, as his special counsel to investigate and advise him on the controversy.

Inslaw, a small computer software company that supplied Justice’s earliest systems for case management tracking by computer, accuses the department of stealing its product and conspiring to drive it out of business. While many a frustrated contractor harbors conspiracy theories about government agencies, Inslaw has acquired prestigious support and pointed to irregularities that remain unexplained a decade after the contract dispute began.

Elliot Richardson, who as Attorney General appointed the Watergate prosecutor and resigned rather than fire him, has argued Inslaw’s cause and demanded a special prosecutor. His complaints of conflicts of interest and department stonewalling are seconded by the Democratic staffs of House and Senate committees. After Inslaw sought refuge in Washington’s Bankruptcy Court, a judge there found “trickery, fraud and deceit” by the Justice Department.

The U.S. Court of Appeals reversed that judgment, saying the bankruptcy judge far exceeded his authority. Although the court agreed that “such conduct, if it occurred, is inexcusable,” it held that Inslaw must pursue its claims in other courts. That could be too late to help the company even if it was unjustly deprived of its contract rights.

Attorney General Barr is right to investigate the department’s conduct more thoroughly. Mr. Barr’s predecessor, Dick Thornburgh, could easily have taken similar action since the charges of wrongdoing were leveled against his predecessors, but he let the case fester.

An element of mystery was added to the case last summer with the death of Danny Casolaro, a journalist investigating whether Inslaw was the victim of some broader conspiracy. West Virginia police called his death a suicide after quickly having the body embalmed. His death and investigation are not an integral part of the Inslaw dispute, but they make it harder to put the case to rest.

Judge Bua seems a brilliant choice as special counsel. He won’t have legal protection against getting fired as a court-appointed independent counsel would, but Mr. Barr has promised him total support. He has an impressive reputation for independence, as he demonstrated by striking down Cook County’s Democratic patronage system even though he was appointed a Federal judge by President Carter. The Chicago Council of Lawyers gave Judge Bua its highest praise for efficiency and temperament.

Although Judge Bua is officially the Attorney General’s counsel and may render some confidential advice, he and Mr. Barr need to arrange for a report on his findings. That would give the public confidence that Justice is doing justice.


Written by nuganhand

September 2, 2008 at 1:39 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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