iOS app Android app More

Former DOJ Civil Rights Nominee: Principles More Important Than A Job Title

Ryan J. Reilly   |   September 15, 2014    2:13 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's former nominee to head the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division said Monday that he hopes young lawyers won’t stop getting involved in important civil rights cases, even though the Senate refused to confirm him due to his representation of a controversial client.

Debo Adegbile came under attack by conservatives after he was nominated to become assistant attorney general of the Civil Rights Division because he was at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund when the organization represented Mumia Abu-Jamal, who had been convicted of murdering a Philadelphia police officer. Abu-Jamal avoided the death penalty because the trial judge gave the jurors confusing instructions that a federal appeals court found violated the Constitution.

Seven Democrats helped Republicans in the Senate block Adegbile's confirmation back in March, while he was serving as senior counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The law firm WilmerHale announced on Monday that Adegbile would be joining as a partner and that he would be withdrawing his nomination for the top Justice Department post.

In an interview with The Huffington Post, Adegbile said he stands by his actions in the Abu-Jamal case. He revealed that he found out only "moments" before the Senate vote that his nomination might be in trouble and said the Obama administration never expected his work on the Abu-Jamal case to dominate the discussion about his nomination.

"I think if you look into it, it would be a rare situation in which somebody was blocked from public service for having successfully vindicated the Constitution of the United States," Adegbile said.

"In our system, you get counsel, you make your case to the court, and then the court rules and we agree as a society, as a civilized society, to abide by that rule of law. Therefore I don't think that there was a lot of focus in my participation in that defense as being disqualifying in any way," Adegbile said of the vetting process before his nomination.

Asked whether he agreed with Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who suggested that Adegbile would have been confirmed if he were white, Adegbile said he'd leave that assessment to others.

"From my perspective, civil rights in our nation have been contested since the beginning of time, and I guess my vote suggests that they're fairly hotly contested today, amongst other events that are unfolding across the country. So I was not surprised that there would be some opposition," he said.

"The chips fell where they did. Whether it's politics or something else is better for other people to assess," he continued. "What I have come to focus on is that in life and as a professional, the principles for which you stand are more important than the office that you hold. I'm very proud to have worked to vindicate the principles of the constitution, and I hope to continue to have those opportunities in the future."

Adegbile, who will focus his practice in WilmerHale's Litigation/Controversy Department, said he "immediately began to consider" his alternatives after the vote in March. He said he had previously collaborated with WilmerHale when he was at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and that several friends and colleagues have worked there.

"Once the events of March unfolded, I started to think about what I may want to do next. Though I did enjoy my service to Sen. Leahy on the Judiciary Committee, my family is in New York and I wanted to find a way to have a law practice that was going to continue to be as interesting as my past had been, but also it was important for me to be back in New York and Wilmer was at the top of the list," Adegbile told The Huffington Post.

His message for young lawyers would be for them to work on cases that are important to them and not to get discouraged by what happened to his nomination.

"I was considered to be AAG for Civil Rights because of the work that I've done in my life, and not in spite of it. Every young lawyer should engage in those cases and matters that are important to them, and let the chips fall," Adegbile said. "The nation will be better for it."

Huffington Post Statement On Arrest Of Reporters In Ferguson

Ashley Alman   |   August 13, 2014   11:26 PM ET

Huffington Post reporter Ryan Reilly and Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery were arrested Wednesday in Ferguson, Missouri, where they were reporting on the protests that have erupted following the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager who was shot by a police officer last week.

In response, Washington, D.C. Bureau Chief Ryan Grim issued the following statement:

We are relieved Ryan Reilly and Wesley Lowery are safe, but we are disturbed by their arrest and assault.

Ryan was working on his laptop in a McDonald's near the protests in Ferguson, MO, when police barged in, armed with high-powered weapons, and began clearing the restaurant. Ryan photographed the intrusion, and police demanded his ID in response. Ryan, as is his right, declined to provide it. He proceeded to pack up his belongings, but was subsequently arrested for not packing up fast enough. Both Ryan and Wesley were assaulted.

Compared to some others who have come into contact with the police department, they came out relatively unscathed, but that in no way excuses the false arrest or the militant aggression toward these journalists. Ryan, who has reported multiple times from Guantanamo Bay, said that the police resembled soldiers more than officers, and treated those inside the McDonald's as "enemy combatants." Police militarization has been among the most consequential and unnoticed developments of our time, and it is now beginning to affect press freedom.

  |   August 13, 2014    8:45 PM ET

The Huffington Post's Ryan J. Reilly and the Washington Post's Wesley Lowery were arrested Wednesday evening while covering the protests in Ferguson, Missouri after the death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, who was shot by a police officer last week. The journalists were released unharmed, but their detentions highlighted the town's ramped up police presence, which has left numerous residents injured by rubber bullets, pepper spray and tear gas during protests held every night after Brown's death.

SWAT officers roughed up the reporters inside a McDonald's, where both journalists were working. Reilly snapped a photo, prompting cops to request his identification.

"The officer in question, who I repeatedly later asked for his name, grabbed my things and shoved them into my bag," said Reilly, who appeared on MSNBC's "All In with Chris Hayes" shortly after his release to recount the arrest. "He used his finger to put a pressure point on my neck."

"They essentially acted as a military force. It was incredible," Reilly said. "The worst part was he slammed my head against the glass purposefully on the way out of McDonald's and then sarcastically apologized for it."

Reilly said it will be difficult to hold the officer "accountable for his actions," as the officer did not respond to Reilly's repeated requests for his name or other identification. He said he can't be "100 percent sure" whether the officer was aware that he's a reporter, "but that really shouldn't matter in this equation."

Reilly believes he was arrested because he declined to present the officer his identification when asked for it, he said.

See tweets from Reilly and Lowery below:

The Huffington Post called the Ferguson Police Department to inquire about the status of Reilly shortly after tweets indicated that he had been arrested. The person who picked up the phone -- who identified himself as "George" -- said he couldn't give any information at this time and that there was no one who could do so. Asked for his last name, he mumbled something quickly. When pressed for the spelling of his name, he hung up.

The Huffington Post called back and again asked for information on Reilly. We were simply put through to the "Ferguson jail" voicemail. On the third try, George again insisted he didn't have any information at this time and referred us to the city's website for email information. When again asked for his last name, George simply hung up.

The Los Angeles Times' Matt Pearce spoke with the Ferguson police chief:

After the incident, Lowery and Reilly both emphasized their experience was minor compared to those of other protesters who have been swarmed by SWAT teams and hit with rubber bullets and tear gas:

UPDATE: Aug. 13, 9:49 p.m. ET -- Another Huffington Post reporter, Christine Conetta, tweeted at 9:44 p.m. ET she'd been hit with tear gas at a protest in Ferguson:

This piece has been updated with more tweets from Lowery and more information about the arrests.

Eric Holder Says He Wasn't Playing Race Card When Decrying GOP Opposition

Ryan J. Reilly   |   April 14, 2014    2:36 PM ET

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Attorney General Eric Holder said he wasn't referring to race last week when he strayed from prepared remarks during a speech before a civil rights group in order to discuss the way he has been treated at a House Judiciary Committee hearing.

"I didn't say there was a racial component. I was very careful not to say that," Holder told The Huffington Post on Friday, when asked about his comments before the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.

In his speech last Wednesday, Holder said that he and President Barack Obama have faced "unwarranted, ugly and divisive adversity."

"What attorney general has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment? What president has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment?" Holder asked during his National Action Network speech.

Although much of the media coverage of Holder's comments interpreted them as a reference to racial divisions, he told HuffPost that he was referring to a lack of civility in Washington.

"I think what we have seen is kind of a breakdown in civility in Washington, D.C., and that becomes important because I think it has substantive impact," Holder said. "We are celebrating the 50th anniversary passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. If we had a Congress or an executive branch-legislative branch relationship in the way that we now have one, where there's this lack of civility, I wonder whether or not you could have forged the necessary compromises, things that involved personal relationships, in order to get such a landmark piece of legislation passed.

"And that's essentially what I was decrying, the fact that we can't somehow separate whatever our personal feelings are and focus on our functions as members of the executive branch or as legislators. I think that I've done a pretty good job in doing that, but it's frustrating at times," Holder said.

Holder also noted that he hadn't planned to mock Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) during his appearance last Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee, but said Gohmert's strange "asparagus" remark last spring "sort of stuck" in his mind.

"I'm still not quite sure I understand it," Holder said.

Eric Holder Would Be 'Glad To Work With Congress' To Reschedule Marijuana

Ryan J. Reilly   |   April 4, 2014    1:29 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration would be willing to work with Congress if lawmakers want to take marijuana off the list of what the federal government considers the most dangerous drugs, Attorney General Eric Holder said Friday.

"We'd be more than glad to work with Congress if there is a desire to look at and reexamine how the drug is scheduled, as I said there is a great degree of expertise that exists in Congress," Holder said during a House Appropriations Committee hearing. "It is something that ultimately Congress would have to change, and I think that our administration would be glad to work with Congress if such a proposal were made."

Several members of Congress have called on the administration to downgrade cannabis on its own without waiting for congressional action. Under the federal Controlled Substances Act, the attorney general has the authority to "remove any drug or other substance from the schedules if he finds that the drug or other substance does not meet the requirements for inclusion in any schedule." Holder didn't indicate Friday that he would be willing to do that unilaterally.

Although there haven't been any documented cases of deaths from overdosing on marijuana, the federal government treats it as a Schedule I drug with a "high potential for abuse," along with heroin, LSD and Ecstasy.

Re-categorizing marijuana would not legalize the drug under federal law, but it could make research into marijuana's medical benefits much easier and allow marijuana businesses to take tax deductions.

Several Republican lawmakers at the hearing questioned Holder's decision to allow Colorado and Washington to legalize and regulate marijuana and to take the states' actions into consideration when prioritizing federal marijuana prosecutions. But Holder said that he was "not sure that you're going to see a huge difference" between the cases the Justice Department was bringing before and after guidance went out to U.S. attorneys on which cases to prioritize.

"We're not blazing a new trail," Holder said of the decision to prosecute only certain cases based on the department's limited resources, noting that much of marijuana law enforcement happens on the state and local levels.

Any move to reschedule marijuana would probably face resistance from the Drug Enforcement Administration, which Holder oversees. DEA chief Michele Leonhart said this week that the growing acceptance of marijuana only makes her agents "fight harder."

Confused by the video above? See 4/20: How Weed Day Got Its Name

Senate Blocks Obama Civil Rights Nominee For Representing Death Row Inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal

Ryan J. Reilly   |   March 5, 2014   12:53 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- The Senate on Wednesday blocked the confirmation of Debo Adegbile, the former head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, to lead the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.

Seven Democrats sided with all the Republicans in voting against the procedural motion to advance Adegbile’s nomination. The Democrats voting no were Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), John Walsh (Mont.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Bob Casey (Pa.) and Chris Coons (Del.).

Democrats needed 51 votes to advance Adegbile: The final vote was 47-52. Vice President Joe Biden came to the Capitol for the vote in case of a tie, but the Senate never got that close.

Before the vote, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) attacked their Republican colleagues for opposing Adegbile over his past representation of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted 30 years ago of murdering a Philadelphia police officer. As legal counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Adegbile helped Abu-Jamal get his death sentence overturned.

"The attacks seem very similar to those that were made against Thurgood Marshall," Leahy said, referring to opposition to the future Supreme Court justice's appointment to a federal appeals court in the early 1960s by Sen. James Eastland (D-Miss.), a segregationist. Marshall was also the first head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

But several Democratic senators also spoke against Adegbile's nomination, with Casey leading the way last week. Some of them are in tight reelection campaigns, and at least one, Coons, said the Civil Rights Division needs a leader who will help build a better relationship with the law enforcement community.

Reid said that Adegbile was being used as a "scapegoat for Republicans trying to stop people from voting."

The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division has been without a confirmed leader since former Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez became secretary of labor last year.

President Barack Obama later issued a scathing statement denouncing the Senate's vote.

"The Senate’s failure to confirm Debo Adegbile to lead the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice is a travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant," Obama said in a statement. "As a lawyer, Mr. Adgebile has played by the rules. And now, Washington politics have used the rules against him. The fact that his nomination was defeated solely based on his legal representation of a defendant runs contrary to a fundamental principle of our system of justice -- and those who voted against his nomination denied the American people an outstanding public servant."

The story has been updated with comment from President Obama.

Federal Prosecutor Tries A Radical Tactic In The Drug War: Not Throwing People In Prison

Ryan J. Reilly   |   February 27, 2014   10:12 PM ET

U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles is pursuing a bold new approach to the "war on drugs" in South Carolina. (Photo: North Charleston Police Department/Flickr)

In the video, Joey Lee Pyatt Jr. is standing shirtless in a dingy kitchen, a blue bandana tied around his neck. The door and floor are covered with sheets of clear plastic, and two young women, one in a white string bikini, the other in black lingerie, measure white powder on a digital scale and sort it into plastic baggies.

"Baggin' up a thousand grams," Pyatt raps into the camera, playing the role of proud drug lord.

In another scene, the aspiring rapper shows off the proceeds of his illicit business, standing in front of the Huckabee Heights housing project in Conway, S.C., as a man next to him nonchalantly tosses dollar bills in the air.

"Welcome to Conway," a sign along the highway reads in another shot.

According to law enforcement officials, Pyatt's artistic persona closely matched his life off screen. His blue bandana signaled allegiance with the Crips. He was arrested in 2012 for carrying a concealed gun in a bar. The projects where he rapped have indeed been hot spots for drug and gang activity.

Just a few blocks southeast of the projects is where Detective Tyres Nesmith of the Conway Police Department found Pyatt, shot and bleeding, just after 1 p.m. on Jan. 6 this year. He was sprawled on the ground in a cement driveway behind a blue one-story house.

"He was just laying there, right where that car is," Nesmith told me a few weeks after the shooting, sitting in her unmarked squad car and pointing to the spot where Pyatt had lain. "I was like, 'Hang on, hang on for me.'" Pyatt died at the hospital. He was 23.

At his funeral, mourners were decked out in blue bandanas, his mother had her hair dyed blue, and dozens of police officers were on hand to maintain order. Photo tributes popped up on Facebook referring to Pyatt as "C.I.P." -- Crip In Peace -- and a "fallen soldier."

Conway is a small city, with a population of about 16,000. Many residents work in tourism-related jobs in nearby Myrtle Beach. The drugs and gangs have made them feel unsafe at home. Dianne Davis, 56, said she tries "not to let the dark catch me" and described other Conway residents as barricading their doors with two-by-fours.

"I want to be able to stand on my porch," Davis said. "I have a beautiful garden."

"There are a lot of gangsters running around in that area," Jimmy Richardson said of the neighborhood where Huckabee Heights is located. Richardson is the chief state prosecutor for Horry County, which includes Conway, and a resident of the city himself.

To South Carolina's top federal prosecutor, however, the troubles in Conway present an opportunity. U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles is testing out a novel approach to dealing with drug-related crime, one that aims to clean up the streets by looking beyond mass arrests and incarceration. Conway is the third city in South Carolina to implement a version of the plan, and federal prosecutors in other states and the Justice Department are watching closely. If the program's success continues in South Carolina, it could become a model for law enforcement across the country.

"What I want to do is to make the people's lives who are law-abiding citizens in this community better," Nettles said on the two-and-a-half-hour drive to Conway from his office in Columbia last month. "Incarceration is no longer the goal, but is one of many tools available to allow you to effect your goal of improving their lives. It represents a fundamental shift, a seismic shift in terms of how you're viewing what you're doing."

"When you declare a 'war on drugs,' the community sees the cops as the occupiers, and the cops see the people in the community as enemy combatants," Nettles said. "Well, that's not the way it's supposed to be."

Nettles' plan is surprisingly straightforward. First, federal and local prosecutors identify local drug dealers with the help of the police, probation officers and community members. Next, they build criminal cases against them by reviewing records for outstanding warrants and conducting undercover drug buys. In most cases, arresting all the dealers would be the next order of business, but Nettles has a different idea.

While high-level dealers are still arrested and prosecuted, some low-level offenders are given another option. For them, Nettles stages something of an intervention. Together with the police, family members, religious leaders and other members of the community, prosecutors present the dealers with the evidence against them and give them a choice: Face the prospect of prison or participate in the pilot project.

The program, officially known as the Drug Market Intervention Initiative, helps the dealers find legitimate jobs and offers them help with drug treatment, education and transportation. The hope is that it provides them with the support and the motivation they need to turn their lives around.

The ones who are chosen know that not everybody gets this chance. The initiative in each city does not have endless resources. So only certain low-level offenders, those with limited criminal histories and no violent crimes in their past, are given the opportunity to avoid prison.

For a period of time, typically more than a year, they are monitored to make sure they remain law-abiding citizens. If they do, they will remain free of the criminal justice system. Until they complete the program, however, the threat of arrest based on the evidence already collected continues to hang over their heads. If officials receive complaints about anyone involved in the program, a judge can sign off on an already prepared arrest warrant.

"Basically we go and tell them, 'Go and sin no more.' If this community calls and says you're back at it, you're gonna be arrested," said Richardson, the Horry County prosecutor.

"These people are being regularly drug tested, they are in a stringent program, and if they fail out or don't show up or quit doing their stuff for work, I'm going to arrest them," Nettles explained. "That is what some people call a motivated employee."

Part of their motivation also comes from the fact that a steady paycheck can actually be more lucrative than the drug business. Contrary to the popular image of drug lords rolling in cash, many street-level dealers are barely getting by.

"Long-term, you very seldom see any drug dealers living in mansions," Richardson said. "Either they don't live to see that, or the money isn't there. There's no Scarface-type situations out there now in our local areas. Nobody is sitting up fat-cat rich, so that either means they're dying or they're in prison before they get the full benefit of what they're setting out to do."

Nettles speaks to residents of Conway, S.C., in January. (Photo: Ryan J. Reilly)

Nettles began developing his plan in early 2010, after President Barack Obama nominated him to serve as one of the country's 93 U.S. attorneys. He was somewhat of a surprising choice for the Justice Department post. Most U.S. attorneys have worked for the government or in the corporate realm -- Attorney General Eric Holder himself has spent nearly his entire career at the Justice Department, save for one stint as a D.C. judge and another with a white-collar law firm -- but Nettles had spent his career as a public defender and criminal defense attorney, often facing off against the very same federal prosecutors he now oversees.

Politically, too, Nettles sticks out in the conservative state, where the Confederate flag still flies on the grounds of the statehouse just blocks from his office. His friend Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) once described Nettles' political beliefs as "to the left of Chairman Mao" on C-SPAN, leading Nettles to send the tea party favorite a copy of the Little Red Book of quotations from the former Chinese Communist leader.

Despite his background, Holder has called for "sweeping, systemic changes" to a "broken" judicial system and has spotlighted initiatives that help offenders to re-enter society and to enroll in drug or mental health treatment programs as an alternative to incarceration. Given his background as a defense attorney -- when his clients ranged from Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps, who was the subject of a criminal probe after he was photographed with a bong, to accused murderers facing death sentences -- Nettles has also been interested in innovative approaches to criminal justice.

He was particularly drawn to a now-decade-old program that local law enforcement officials had launched in High Point, N.C.

The High Point plan is even more progressive than many of the programs that Holder has highlighted. Recognizing that the "war on drugs" was feeding the divide between minority communities and law enforcement, the High Point Police Department sought an approach that went beyond buy-busts and police raids. By pooling law enforcement, social service and community resources -- and getting drug dealers' family members involved -- officials were able to virtually eliminate open-air drug markets in High Point. In its West End neighborhood, violent crime was still down 57 percent five years after the program was implemented.

By late 2010, Nettles was ready to try the High Point model in his own state. He saw the city of North Charleston as a perfect place to initiate the experiment: The area had a high crime rate, and local law enforcement leaders were supportive of his plan.

"At the time it was the seventh-deadliest city in America, so I was thinking there was no way I could screw this up," Nettles said.

In North Charleston, federal and local law enforcement officials identified a total of 31 narcotics dealers. Most were arrested in January 2011 and charged on either the state or federal level, but eight were kept out of handcuffs. Four of those eight eventually fell back into their old habits and were arrested, but the other four stayed away from drug dealing. None of those four have re-offended, one is up for promotion as a sanitation worker, and another recently earned his GED.

Initially, the plan faced skepticism from narcotics officers on the ground, who referred to it as "hug-a-thug." Ultimately, they too were convinced it was a better strategy.

"We were inundated with telephone calls for the whole entire deployment, from the time we did the first call-in, from others interested in the program," said Assistant Police Chief Reggie Burgess, who oversaw the program in North Charleston. "We had corner boys from other surrounding cities outside of our jurisdiction come in and say, 'Hey, man, what can I do to get in this program?' ... They were telling us, basically, 'I'm a drug dealer and I want to get off the streets.'"

The program helped not only the drug dealers but also their families. If a job came with health care benefits, Burgess said, the former drug dealer could take his kids to the pediatrician, rather than rely on hospital emergency rooms.

"If we can affect one life, that's a ripple effect to that family," North Charleston Sgt. Charity Prosser, who initially resisted helping to run the program, told NBC's "Dateline" last year. "Their daddy's not in jail, they have someone there constant, someone to teach them right from wrong, to teach them responsibility. That, in itself -- if we could just save one, if we could just help one. The ripple effect? You're talking countless people. Countless."

The program was also a hit with residents of the Charleston Farms area of North Charleston and led to a significant drop in crime in that area.

After his success in North Charleston, Nettles helped roll out a similar initiative in the city of Aiken in 2013. When one of the offenders in the Aiken program re-offended, state prosecutors expedited an old burglary case, which led to a 12-year sentence. Others stuck with it.

One of the most positive impacts of the program has been on how the police related to their local communities.

"It was 'shock and awe' to our law enforcement system," Burgess said at a presentation about the program with Nettles and Assistant U.S. Attorney Lance Crick in July 2013. "We wanted them to help individuals that did not look at us very positively. We were the people standing in between them and their livelihood, dealing drugs. We had to change how we looked at these drug dealers. If we were going to give them the opportunity to do good in their lives, we had to put that attitude behind us."

It was that presentation that led Conway Mayor Alys C. Lawson to approach Nettles about implementing the program in her city.

"We were so enthusiastic. We really have a community that deserves this program," she said.

Police headquarters in Conway, S.C. (Photo: Ryan J. Reilly)

In Conway, Nettles and his local partners are doing things a bit differently from the initiatives in North Charleston and Aiken. Instead of quietly investigating the Conway drug market though undercover buys first, they're deliberately making their presence known to see if they can cut down on the drug trade before they even start.

"We're being upfront about it. We're going to flood this area with federal [confidential informants]," Richardson said. "We've already mapped it out. We know for the most part who the big players are, the first, second and third tier. A lot of the people in those areas, there's already evidence produced on those guys. Now, they don't know it, but I don't mind them knowing it."

"Press is free," said Conway Police Chief Reginald E. Gosnell, who credited the attention the program has received so far with helping the police make an arrest in Pyatt's death. At a community meeting in late January, Nettles asked residents to tell any of their friends or family members involved in the drug trade that "if they keep it up, we're gonna get them."

Local officials in several cities across the country have implemented versions of the High Point initiative. But the Justice Department's level of involvement in South Carolina stands out, especially since the federal government is notorious for its heavy-handed approach to drug enforcement. U.S. attorneys in West Virginia, Alabama and Virginia have participated in versions of the program as well, but Nettles has been its most enthusiastic promoter, earning the North Charleston program a mention in a speech by Deputy Attorney General James Cole, the "Dateline" special and notice from prosecutors nationwide.

Still, there are a number of obstacles to implementing the program on a larger scale. Helping drug dealers turn their lives around is a lot more complicated than locking them away. The program hasn't cost the U.S. Attorney's Office in South Carolina any money directly, but the model can require more overtime hours from local police. And long-term enthusiasm must be sustained among prosecutors and police officers, many of whom tend to measure success in terms of number of arrests made or years sentenced.

"It's harder work. The easy way to do these cases is to let law enforcement go in there, make a bunch of cases, they bring them to your office, they're in little folders, you send people to prison for a long time. That's the easy way. It's harder to go out here," Nettles said. "But it's rewarding. I find it immensely rewarding."

Supporters say the potential benefits of the program far outweigh the costs: Keeping another body out of state or federal prison and turning him or her into a contributing member of society is good for the bottom line.

Nettles will soon be rolling out the Drug Market Intervention Initiative in the state capital of Columbia, and other cities may follow.

"I'm just vain enough that I would like for the things that I've done to stay in place after I leave," Nettles said during the community meeting in Conway. "That's why I come to these communities here, so after I leave, someone will say, 'I don't know, that tall, skinny guy who looked like Jim Carrey, he had some little idea over here, and I want to do it again.'"

How Scalia Helped Screw Texas' Case Against Gay Marriage

Ryan J. Reilly   |   February 26, 2014    4:36 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- When U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia of the Western District of Texas struck down the Lone Star State's ban on gay marriage on Wednesday, he cited the words of a man who is normally a friend to conservatives: Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Garcia, a Clinton appointee who had previously served in the Texas legislature, could have cited any number of opinions to undermine the state's contention that the ability of many opposite-sex couples to procreate, as well as "tradition," justified denying equal marriage rights to same-sex couples.

But the federal judge didn't cite just any Supreme Court justice. He chose to quote from Scalia's dissent in the landmark 2003 case Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down the state's anti-sodomy law.

In 2003, Scalia was trying to argue that the Supreme Court was wrong to overturn laws based on moral choices. He wrote that the decision in Lawrence v. Texas called into question laws against same-sex marriage (and also, he believed, bigamy, adult incest and prostitution) because other justifications for banning same-sex marriage -- including those that Texas would cite in support of its own ban a decade later -- weren't legitimate.

In explaining why tradition alone can't form a rational basis for a law, Garcia pointed to Scalia's argument in the 2003 dissent that the phrase "the traditional institution of marriage" is "just a kinder way of describing the State’s moral disapproval of same-sex couples."

And in explaining why the biological ability of many opposite-sex couples to procreate doesn't justify denying equal rights to same-sex couples, Garcia cited Scalia, too.

"[W]hat justification could there possibly be for denying the benefits of marriage to homosexual couples exercising 'the liberty protected by the Constitution'? Surely not the encouragement of procreation, since the sterile and the elderly are allowed to marry," Scalia wrote at the time.

Garcia isn't the first federal judge to use Scalia's words to undermine a state's defense of a gay marriage ban. In Utah, Ohio, Virginia and Kentucky, federal judges fully embraced Scalia's predictions last year in his dissent in United States v. Windsor, the case that struck down key portions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Scalia wrote in that dissent that he believed the majority's logic would inevitably lead to other judges striking down same-sex marriage bans.

Feds Move To Fix Pot Shops' Banking Problems

Ryan J. Reilly   |   February 14, 2014    2:04 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- The federal government issued guidelines on Friday that officials said were intended to increase the financial services available to marijuana businesses that are legal under state laws.

Guidelines announced by the Treasury Department and a memo from a top Justice Department official were intended to ease concerns that the federal government would target banks working with marijuana-related businesses that are legal and regulated on the state level. Expanded banking access will enable them to function like traditional businesses, and implementing a reporting structure will allow the federal government to take a close look at how they operate.

Under the Treasury Department's plan, banks would file a "suspicious activity report," or SAR, for a wide range of financial transactions by any marijuana-related business, but they would specify that they did not believe illegal activity beyond simply dealing in the marijuana trade was taking place.

The Justice Department memo falls short of expressly protecting banks that work with state-compliant marijuana businesses from prosecution. It states only that banks working with businesses that don't violate one of DOJ's eight areas of concern related to the pot trade, like distribution of marijuana to minors, violence and the use of firearms, are less likely to be targeted by federal prosecutors.

"If a financial institution or individual offers services to a marijuana-related business whose activities do not implicate any of the eight priority factors, prosecution for those offenses may not be appropriate," Deputy Attorney General James Cole wrote in the memo, which was sent to federal prosecutors across the country on Friday.

While the phrase "may not be appropriate" falls far short of what the marijuana lobby and financial institutions were hoping for -- and the Cole memo didn't state outright that the move was meant to expand banking access for pot shops -- DOJ officials said easing the financial threat to marijuana businesses working in a cash-only environment was their intent.

"The Department shares the concerns of public officials and law enforcement about the public safety risks associated with businesses that handle significant amounts of cash," Justice Department spokeswoman Allison Price said in a statement. "These guidelines, together with the Treasury Department's guidance to financial institutions, are intended to increase the availability of financial services for marijuana businesses -- that are licensed and regulated -- while at the same time preserving and enhancing important law enforcement tools."

State-legal, state-licensed marijuana businesses often don’t have access to traditional banking, and cannot accept credit cards or open simple checking accounts, due to banks' fears that they could be implicated as money launderers. The businesses are forced into cash-only transactions, putting the retailers' safety at risk and creating issues involving taxes and employee payroll.

Treasury officials, based on their conversations with financial institutions, said they anticipated that the guidelines could encourage smaller and medium-sized banks to deal with marijuana businesses.

“While we appreciate the efforts by the Department of Justice and FinCEN, guidance or regulation doesn’t alter the underlying challenge for banks," said Frank Keating, the president and CEO of the American Bankers Association. "As it stands, possession or distribution of marijuana violates federal law, and banks that provide support for those activities face the risk of prosecution and assorted sanctions.”

Richard Riese, vice president of compliance at the ABA, told The Wall Street Journal that bankers are concerned about the legality of working with federally illegal businesses and have questions about how to effectively scrutinize the transactions made.

Bank of America’s policy, for example, has been to not accept any marijuana businesses as customers, and it’s unclear if the guidance proposed is enough to change that.

Currently, 20 states and the District of Columbia have legalized some form of marijuana, be it medical or recreational. The legal marijuana industry is expected to grow to $2.3 billion in 2014 in the U.S.. One study suggests that figure could balloon to over $10 billion by 2019.

“This is an important step,” Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.), sponsor of the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act, said in a statement. But Perlmutter also noted that the guidance doesn’t alleviate all liability for financial institutions interested in doing business with marijuana businesses.

“We need Congress to promptly consider and pass my legislation to provide certainty for financial institutions and the licensed marijuana related businesses to operate just like any other business,” Perlmutter added.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), a co-sponsor of Perlmutter's banking legislation and sponsor of the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, called the guidelines a "huge step in the right direction," but said the federal government's continued stance that marijuana is one of the "most dangerous" drugs needs to be reconsidered.

"The only true way to protect these small business owners is to remove marijuana from the list of schedule 1 narcotics," Polis said.

Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for Marijuana Policy Project, agreed that more needed to be done to resolve the conflicts between federal and state marijuana law.

"Rather than forcing federal agencies to work around our broken marijuana laws, Congress needs to act to permanently fix these problems by ending federal marijuana prohibition and allowing states to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol," he said.

The Treasury Department guidance:

FinCEN Guidance on Marijuana-Related Businesses

The Justice Department memo:

DAG Memo - Guidance Regarding Marijuana Related Financial Crimes

DOJ Threatens To Withhold Grants From States That Aren't Protecting Prisoners From Rape

Ryan J. Reilly   |   February 12, 2014    2:16 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department is threatening to withhold grant money from states if they don't comply with federal standards intended to reduce prison rape.

In a letter sent Wednesday to the governors of all 50 states, Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason, who heads DOJ's Office of Justice Programs, wrote that eliminating prison rape is a priority "because we believe that sexual abuse is a crime, and should not be the punishment for a crime."

Governors have until May 15 to either certify that they are in compliance with the federal standards, which were finalized in 2012, or confirm that at least five percent of the grant funds they receive will go towards bringing their state into compliance with the regulations. The Justice Department previously faced criticism for taking nearly a decade to finalize the regulations, after Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) in 2003.

"If the Governor is not able to certify to DOJ that the State is in full compliance with the National PREA Standards and elects not to submit an assurance to DOJ, the State is subject to the loss of five percent of certain DOJ grant funds that it would otherwise receive," Mason wrote.

Separately, a recent investigation by the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division found that corrections officials in Alabama had "chosen to ignore" rampant abuse at a women's prison. Prisoners there were made to perform sexual acts to escape punishment and even to obtain basic hygiene products.

DOJ's research previously showed that roughly 1 in 10 prisoners suffered some form of sexual abuse behind bars.

PREA Act Letter

Eric Holder Backs Restoring Voting Rights To Former Felons

Ryan J. Reilly   |   February 11, 2014    9:30 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- Attorney General Eric Holder is putting the weight of the Obama administration behind restoring voting rights to former felons, calling laws that disenfranchise millions of Americans "unnecessary and unjust," and saying they are rooted in "centuries-old conceptions of justice that were too often based on exclusion, animus, and fear."

Holder, who has made criminal justice reform a central focus of his over the past several months, said the policies had a disparate impact on minority communities and echoed those enacted during the post-Civil War era.

"By perpetuating the stigma and isolation imposed on formerly incarcerated individuals, these laws increase the likelihood they will commit future crimes," Holder said during a speech at a criminal justice reform event hosted by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights at Georgetown University Law Center on Tuesday. "They undermine the reentry process and defy the principles of accountability and rehabilitation that guide our criminal justice policies. And however well-intentioned current advocates of felony disenfranchisement may be, the reality is that these measures are, at best, profoundly outdated."

Felony disenfranchisement laws date to a time "when these policies were employed not to improve public safety, but purely as punitive measures intended to stigmatize, shame and shut out a person who had been found guilty of a crime," Holder said.

Such laws disenfranchise an estimated 5.8 million Americans, more than the individual populations of 31 states, Holder said. He called Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) a "leader" on the issue of restoring voting rights to former felons, and said Paul's "vocal support for restoring voting rights for former inmates shows that this issue need not break down along partisan lines."

The issue is getting renewed focus by the Justice Department, which in March 2010 did not send any representative to a hearing of a House Judiciary subcommittee on the Democracy Restoration Act, a bill that would restore the voting rights of felons upon their release from prison.

Eleven states currently restrict voting rights for former felons even after they have served their prison sentence and are no longer on parole.

"It is unwise, it is unjust, and it is not in keeping with our democratic values," Holder said. "These laws deserve to be not only reconsidered, but repealed."

Eric Holder Plans To Stay At DOJ 'Well Into 2014'

Ryan J. Reilly   |   February 10, 2014    2:40 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- Attorney General Eric Holder plans to stay at the Justice Department "well into" 2014, the nation's top law enforcement official told The New Yorker in a story published Monday.

The story also paraphrases Holder saying that he does plan to leave sometime in 2014, but a Justice Department spokesman later maintained that Holder didn't go quite that far.

"As the Attorney General has said repeatedly before, he plans to stay well into this year. He has made no plans yet beyond that," the spokesman told The Huffington Post.

"I've still got things I want to do ... I'm going to be here for a while. ... What I've said is, I'm going to be here certainly into 2014. Well into 2014," Holder said, according to a transcript provided by the spokesman.

Jeffrey Toobin, author of the New Yorker article, said the quote released by the Justice spokesman "is accurate."

Holder, who has recently put a lot of effort into calling attention to voting rights and criminal justice reform issues, has been liberated by his lame-duck status, Toobin writes in The New Yorker.

If he stays on until December 2014, Holder would become the third-longest serving attorney general in history. He served as deputy to the second-longest serving attorney general, Janet Reno.

The Justice Department provided HuffPost with this longer extract from the Dec. 19 interview:

Toobin: “And how long are you going to be the Attorney General? You mentioned ‘as long as I’m Attorney General’…”

Holder: “Well, you know, I’ve still got things I want to do. I mean, I’ve got this fight, this criminal justice reform stuff that I talked about, I guess, in August at the ABA [American Bar Association]. I’ve got financial cases I’m still working on. So I’m going to be here for a while."

Toobin: “Do you want to put any more specific -- this is like Journalism [101] ... I have to ask all these questions. If you don’t want to tell me, don’t tell me. Like, do you know? A year? Two years?”

Holder: “I guess, I think what I’ve said is, I’m going to be here certainly into 2014.”

Toobin: “That’s a big commitment. It’s in like three weeks ...”

Holder: “I think I’ve said, ‘well into 2014.’”

Toobin: “I see. ‘Well into’? OK, very good.”

Fox News Leaker's Lawyer Claims System Is Rigged Against Low-Level Officials

Ryan J. Reilly   |   February 7, 2014    4:49 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- A lawyer for a former State Department official who pleaded guilty on Friday to making an unauthorized disclosure of national defense information to a Fox News reporter said his client's case shows the nation's system for prosecuting leaks "is broken and terribly unfair."

Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, 46, pleaded guilty in connection with leaking information about how U.S. intelligence officials thought North Korea would react to heightened sanctions. If a judge signs off on an agreement Kim reached with federal prosecutors, he'll serve 13 months in prison.

"As this prosecution demonstrates, we will not waver in our commitment to pursuing and holding accountable government officials who blatantly disregard their obligations to protect our nation’s most highly guarded secrets," Ron Machen, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, said in a statement.

Kim's case attracted significant media attention after it was revealed that the Justice Department treated the Fox News reporter, James Rosen, as a co-conspirator in order to gain access to his emails. The public uproar over the case, as well as concern over DOJ's handling of phone records belonging to the Associated Press in a separate case, led DOJ to revise its media guidelines.

Abbe David Lowell, a lawyer representing Kim, noted that the new media guidelines, which would have prevented "improperly obtained evidence" from being used, were not applied in the case. While it is unlikely that DOJ was actually planning to prosecute Rosen, officials told a judge that they were investigating him as a "co-conspirator" so they could obtain his emails without his knowledge. Attorney General Eric Holder signed off on Rosen's search warrant, but later said he regretted doing so.

Lowell also said that Kim was being singled out, while higher-ranking government officials were able to disclose national security information with impunity. That's the same argument another former government official made when pleading guilty in connection with a leak about a foiled bomb plot, insisting that more powerful officials had disclosed information as well.

"Lower-level employees like Mr. Kim are prosecuted because they are easier targets or often lack the resources or political connections to fight back," Lowell said. "High-level employees leak classified information to forward their agenda or to make an administration look good with impunity. In fact, in this case, news reports from the same day demonstrate that Stephen was not the only government employee discussing the topic at issue. Stephen may have told the reporter what the reporter already knew from others, but Stephen was the only one charged."

Lowell's full statement is reprinted below.

On June 11, 2009, Stephen Kim did what so many government officials do every day in Washington, DC: he talked to a reporter. Regrettably, the topic and some of the information that he discussed with a reporter was also contained in a classified report. Accordingly, Stephen pled guilty today to one count of disclosing this classified information to someone not authorized to receive it. Stephen takes full responsibility for his actions. But there is so much more to say about this case:

1) Stephen did not reveal any intelligence “sources” or “methods.” The information at issue was less sensitive or surprising than much of what we read in the newspaper every day. At the time of the disclosure and during the case, many former government officials and media commentators noted that the information was nothing significant, that much of it was in public sources, and that the prosecution of this information was another example of the “over-classification” of information by the government. A great deal of harmless information is “classified,” even when it is widely available to the public.

2) Stephen did not steal any information. He did not provide any documents or electronic data to anyone. He did not pay for or receive payment for his actions. All that he did was have conversations with a particular reporter on a particular day -- yet he faced more than 15 years in jail for this conduct.

3) Stephen’s case demonstrates that our system for prosecuting “leaks” in this country is broken and terribly unfair. Lower-level employees like Mr. Kim are prosecuted because they are easier targets or often lack the resources or political connections to fight back. High-level employees leak classified information to forward their agenda or to make an administration look good with impunity. In fact, in this case, news reports from the same day demonstrate that Stephen was not the only government employee discussing the topic at issue. Stephen may have told the reporter what the reporter already knew from others, but Stephen was the only one charged.

4) “Leak” cases are prosecuted under the Espionage Act, a 100-year-old law with crushing penalties that was never intended to apply to conversations between a government employee and a news reporter. The Act and its penalties are designed to punish traitors and spies – not State Department analysts answering questions from the media about their area of expertise. Stephen faced more than a decade in jail for the type of public discussion of foreign policy issues that ought to be encouraged. This Administration and Congress should address these problems, as they undermine the basic fairness of our criminal justice system.

5) Stephen’s was the case that revealed that the Obama Administration had targeted the media as criminal “co-conspirators” and obtained private email and cell phone records of reporters. As a result, Attorney General Holder issued new guidelines for investigating so-called "leak" cases. Yet, Stephen did not receive any of the benefits of these reforms (DOJ not using improperly obtained evidence in criminal cases and DOJ pursuing non-criminal resolutions of cases against government employees) because the government refused to apply them in his case.

6) Faced with the draconian penalties of the Espionage Act, the tremendous resources that the federal government devoted to his case (a half-dozen prosecutors and a dozen FBI agents), and the prospect of a lengthy trial in today’s highly-charged climate of mass disclosures, Stephen decided to take responsibility for his actions and move forward with his life.

Stephen, who has provided years of important and valued public service, appreciates all of the support and kind words that he has received from the community. His life has been in limbo for four years – with his plea today, he hopes to find a path back to some normalcy.

Obama's White House Opposes His Actual Views On Marijuana Legalization

Ryan J. Reilly   |   February 4, 2014    3:48 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- A top White House official's testimony explained the Obama administration's position on state marijuana legalization, which seems to directly contradict the president's personal views, during a congressional committee hearing on Tuesday.

Obama stated in a recent interview that it was "important" for the marijuana legalization efforts in Washington and Colorado to move forward. But Deputy Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Michael Botticelli's written testimony before a House Oversight subcommittee on Tuesday said that the Obama administration "continues to oppose attempts to legalize marijuana and other drugs."

Obama described marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado as an "experiment," but Botticelli's testimony said that calls for legalization "often paint a misleading picture."

"Although state legalization efforts include taxes on marijuana, costs associated with legalization may far exceed any additional tax revenue," Botticelli said in his written testimony. "For example, the tax revenue collected from alcohol pales in comparison to the costs associated with it."

The Department of Justice declined to send a representative to appear before the subcommittee, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) said Tuesday afternoon. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said last month that legalizing marijuana would not necessarily make it easier for minors to obtain pot because the DOJ plans to focus on prosecuting dealers who target children.

Mica said the president's recent comments may make him a "major contributor" to the perception that marijuana is a low-risk drug.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.