Aug. 21, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Citing Flawed Process, Lawyers Call for Changes in Ethics Office Inquiries

One point on which the watchdog group and the defense attorneys agree is the need for additional interview parameters, which would enable lawmakers to cooperate without being exposed to what Sandstrom characterized as an open-ended “fishing expedition” in a letter to the Ethics Committee. The letter concerned an OCE case related to his client, former Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas.

“No one is going to do that. It’s too risky. If documents are going to be discussed, you should be able to prepare for that. The OCE asks people to come in and talk ... but makes it difficult for people to respond, then takes a negative inference from that,” Sloan said.

“But I also think the OCE should have subpoena power,” she added.

The House did not give the office the power to compel testimony and subpoena documents over the objections of some of the government watchdog groups that insisted it would be necessary for it to function.

Attorneys also say they would like to see clearer published definitions for what the OCE considers to be exculpatory evidence and a set timeline for when such information will be shared with the subject of the probe, though the office confirmed it has internal standards and definitions related to both to ensure continuity from case to case.

“A number of the people who practice in this area find it to be a very elusive definition that wouldn’t comport with their own understanding of what’s exculpatory,” Sandstrom said.

Attorneys say enough time has passed since the office’s creation that it may be time to review how it operates, saying that even successful institutions at times need tweaks.

“There are flaws in the system,” McGinley said.

The House last week reauthorized the OCE to continue its work in the 113th Congress.

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