A federal judge in Washington today threw out a former federal prosecutor's suit alleging the Department of Justice violated his privacy and speech rights in leaking information about an internal ethics investigation to the press.
Richard Convertino, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Detroit, alleged in the suit that the government knew the leak about a pending Office of Professional Responsibility investigation would destroy his reputation. Convertino also alleged the disclosure of the information was retaliation for his criticism about the DOJ’s handling of the war on terrorism.
A history of the famous “Detroit sleeper cell” terrorism prosecution that landed Convertino in trouble is here. In 2007, Convertino was acquitted on criminal charges of obstruction of justice stemming from the allegations he acted unfairly during the terrorism prosecution. That case fell apart over allegations of government misconduct.
Convertino’s suit in Washington’s federal trial court has not turned up the source of the leaked private and confidential information published in a 2004 article in the Detroit Free Press. On its end, the government was “unable to determine by a preponderance of the evidence” the source of the leak, according to court records.
Chief Judge Royce Lamberth this afternoon granted the Justice Department’s motion for summary judgment, saying Convertino cannot answer the question that underpins his case. The judge also said that, without the identity of the leaker, Convertino cannot produce evidence that DOJ acted willfully or intentionally.
“Seven years of litigation have sapped the resources of more than one United States District Court, yet Convertino is no closer to answering the most basic question of all: Who done it?” Lamberth wrote in a 32-page opinion today. (More background on privacy issues in the litigation here.)
Lamberth said the “facts of this case could occupy the imagination of a good fiction writer for some time, but very few of the more salacious details are actually relevant to the issues before the Court or to its analysis. Pared down to essentials, this case is the simple story of Richard G. Convertino’s unsuccessful quest to unmask the leaker of his private information.”
The judge ended his ruling on an optimistic—but perhaps not realistic—note. If a fellow judge in Detroit ultimately compels discovery and Convertino gets the identity of the leaker, then he’s free to ask for reconsideration of today’s decision, Lamberth said.
A lead attorney for Convertino, Stephen Kohn of the Washington whistleblower firm Kohn, Kohn & Colaptino, was traveling and not immediately reached for comment this afternoon. Eric Snyder, a Kohn colleague who has worked on the Convertino case, declined to comment.
Convertino, who resigned from the Justice Department in 2005 and now runs a law firm in Michigan, a was not immediately reached for comment.