Saturday, January 31, 2015

David Codrea: Revoked judgment in Dobyns case reveals further government misconduct

Starting out quoting Shakespeare and ending up citing Kafka, Judge Francis M. Allegra’s conclusions about ATF conduct that led him to rule in favor of retired agent Jay Dobyns in a breach of covenant suit are scathingly revealed in his previously sealed opinion. That judgment was revoked after Allegra learned of “fraud upon the court” considerations, this column reported Sunday.

Leading his opinion with a verse from Othello, Allegra pointedly let the government defendants he ruled against know he considered them to have robbed Dobyns of his “good name.” Concluding his opinion with a reference comparing Dobyns’ ordeal to that imposed by the ‘totalitarian state” in “The Trial,” and calling it “Kafkaesque,” Allegra further observed that the conduct of "certain ATF officials ... bears little resemblance to the lofty sayings carved into the facades of the Department of Justice.” He was referring to “words now carved into the office rotunda of the Attorney General” that “The United States wins its point whenever justice is done its citizens in the courts.”

“Based on the breach of the covenant, the court finds that plaintiff [Dobyns] is entitled to damages in the amount of $173,000,” Allegra ordered in the opinion he has since revoked in order to pursue an investigation into further government misconduct. “The court concludes that defendant [ATF] is entitled to – nothing.”

Contained between such surprisingly literary judicial bookends is much “legalese,” and much “backstory” that in many cases reads more like a novel than like a record of dry facts. It's almost surreal when figures from Operation Fast and Furious appear in this account, and they act in character consistent with how they established themselves in that story. This time, with additional “cast members” (and the legal document at times reads just like a script), the technique of “slow walking” (as in deliberately dragging their feet investigating the arson of Dobyns’ home) brings to mind another “walking” technique employed by ATF in that other installment of the bureau’s directed misadventures.

Also contained in the narrative is the judge’s unequivocal opinion that Dobyns was not only clearly exonerated for the fire that destroyed his home – a smear intended to cast his character and motives into doubt – but that ATF officials knew he was innocent, and behaved in a manner that was “reprehensible” and actually “compounded the potential harm that might have befallen the Dobyns family." And testimony presented later in the opinion further revealed that reopening the arson case was discouraged by ATF’s Chief Counsel’s Office because it “would damage [the] civil case.”

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