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 are sued in connection with their official actions. But 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.
Dan 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 division “exceptional.”
“It undoubtedly will cost the taxpayers far more,” he said.
According 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 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 substantive merit.”
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 taxpayers.
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. attorneys.