Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group, has filed complaints with the D.C. and Virginia Bars against two attorneys accused of illegally screening applicants to elite recruitment programs at Main Justice.
The complaints -- filed Monday against Michael Elston, a McGuireWoods partner, and Esther Slater McDonald, an associate at Seyfarth Shaw -- come in the wake of a critical report last month by the DOJ's Office of Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility.
The joint investigation by the department's two ethics watchdogs found that Elston and McDonald violated the Civil Service Reform Act and DOJ anti-discrimination guidelines when they used political bias to reject hundreds of applicants with liberal affiliations in 2006.
"Ironically, Elston and McDonald engaged in clearly illegal conduct while serving in the top echelon of the very agency charged with enforcing our nation's laws," said Melanie Sloan, the watchdog group's executive director, in a statement.
Elston and McDonald did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
The Bar complaint against Elston in Virginia states that he "may have violated" Rule 8.4(b) and Rule 8.4(c) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Rule 8.4(b) forbids a lawyer from engaging "in a deliberately wrongful act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness to practice law." Rule 8.4(c) prohibits "conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation which reflects adversely on the lawyer's fitness to practice law."
"His conduct is all the more egregious because it took place at the Department of Justice, part of the mission of which is 'to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans,'" reads the complaint, which also was forwarded to disciplinary boards in three other states where Elston is also licensed. They are Illinois, Kansas and Missouri.
The complaint against McDonald in the District says she "may have violated rule 8.4(d)" of the D.C. Bar's Rules of Professional Conduct. That rule bars attorneys from engaging "in conduct that seriously interferes with the administration of justice."