Sitting and former U.S. Attorneys visited The University of Alabama School of Law March 2 and discussed the role lawyers play in government.
The symposium, “The Role of Lawyers in Good Government,” was held in the McMillan Lecture Hall in Room 287 and consisted of three panels. It gave participants an opportunity to hear the views of lawyers from multiple presidential administrations and engage with them through questions and answers.
First, sitting U.S. Attorneys explored their role as the chief federal law enforcement official in their respective districts. The guidelines governing the position are established by the presidential administration and the U.S. Attorney General, but the position comes with a fair amount of discretion, which allows U.S. Attorneys to deviate from internal policies.
U.S. Attorneys prosecute federal criminal cases, including false claims, white collar crime, and healthcare fraud. When exercising discretion in cases, they have robust discussions with other attorneys. The focus, said Richard W. Moore, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, is on truth and justice, not winning cases.
“The topic here is about a better government and a good government,” Moore said. “If the community is going to believe that government is good, then they have to believe that justice is being done.”
That discretion does not extend to public officials.
“The easiest way to approach those cases is if somebody has violated the law, you charge them,” said Jay E. Town, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama.
Second, a panel of former government lawyers examined their responsibilities in law enforcement and cabinet-level agencies. Panelists had served the nation with the U.S. Department of Transportation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the U.S. Department of Commerce.
In many cases, a group of lawyers provide legal advice to an entire staff at an executive branch agency. Those positions require lawyers to advise the staff that a policy will or will not be effective. If the policy is adopted, it is also legal counsel’s responsibility to carry out the policy, said David K. Bowsher, a former Acting General Counsel and Deputy General Counsel at the U.S. Department of Commerce.
“They make the policy,” Bowsher said. “You have to make sure that they get the right advice, that they are fully informed.”
And finally, lawyers discussed strategies that have been used in shaping criminal justice policy. Panelists described methods that may help prevent crime, such as prescription monitoring, visiting high schools and discussing opioid addiction, and helping felons find employment after they have been released from prison.
In Rhode Island, for example, the state has been working on what’s called justice reinvestment, a program that helps the state identify what’s driving the cost of corrections and develop solutions. One of those solutions is helping nonviolent offenders rejoin society.
“It’s just an economic reality that we have to get people back into the workforce,” said Peter F. Neronha, a former U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island.
Symposium panelists and moderators were: