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Ex-Bush official publicly reprimanded by Virginia State Bar

Monica Marie Goodling

Monica Marie Goodling, the key figure in the controversy about the political hiring and firing of U.S. Attorneys during the Bush Administration, has received a public reprimand from the Virginia State Bar.

A VSB subcommittee concluded that Goodling, a member of the VSB since 1999, had violated ethics rules by committing “a criminal or deliberately wrongful act” that reflected adversely on her “honesty, trustworthiness or fitness to practice law.” The subcommittee’s reprimand, to which Goodling agreed, was handed down in March and made public last week.

Goodling was accused of using a conservative political litmus test in personnel decisions. She admitted in 2007 during testimony before Congress that she used political affiliation and other political considerations in hiring lawyers for career positions in the U.S. Department of Justice. She was White House liaison and senior counsel to the attorney general at the time.

She testified, “I crossed the line of the civil service rules. … But I didn’t mean to.” She asserted her Fifth Amendment rights before appearing before Congress and testified only under a grant of immunity.

After her testimony, the Justice Department conducted an investigation of her conduct and other allegations of improper political considerations in the department. The Office of Professional Responsibility and the Office of the Inspector General issued a lengthy joint report in July 2008 that did not refer her conduct for criminal investigation.

Because she had resigned her position before the administrative investigation was concluded, the department took no disciplinary action against her.

VSB Counsel Edward L. Davis acknowledged that the VSB’s investigation “took more time than it normally would have.”

Davis said the case differed from a typical bar complaint because the violation that Goodling admitted involved a non-punitive, non-criminal investigation — a civil service rule.

The Justice Department report included information about at least one allegation — that she had lied to her supervisor about what she was doing — that might have risen to the level of a criminal violation, but the committee did not find that it had been established by clear and convincing evidence, the standard for proving ethical misconduct.

Davis said the VSB investigation was made more difficult by the report’s analysis of possible misconduct by other department employees that was unrelated to Goodling’s conduct or only tangentially connected to it.

He noted that the first investigator assigned to the case left the bar staff before completing his work on it, contributing to the delay.

The subcommittee determination said that Goodling has been employed in the private sector and is not practicing law now. Katie Uston, the assistant bar counsel who handled the matter before the subcommittee, said Goodling is working in market research in Arlington.

The allegations against Goodling of hiring and firing based on politics received extensive media coverage.

Much of the Justice Department investigation focused on allegations not mentioned in the VSB subcommittee’s determination – that U.S. Attorneys were removed for political reasons.

One of those officials, H.E. Cummins III from Arkansas, described her at the time as “inexperienced, way too naïve and a little overzealous.”

She had limited legal experience before joining the Bush Administration, having graduated from the Regent University law school in 1999. The New York Times reported that department colleagues said she was deeply religious and conservative and seemed to believe that part of her job was to bring people with similar values to the Justice Department.