dana liebelson

Dana Liebelson

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Dana Liebelson is a reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. Her work also appears in Marie Claire and The Week. In her free time, she plays electric violin and bass in a punk band.

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Justice Department Bad Boys: More Than 650 Cases of Misconduct Documented in 12-Year Period

| Fri Mar. 14, 2014 11:24 AM EDT

Federal prosecutors, judges, and other officials at the Justice Department committed over 650 acts of professional misconduct in a recent 12-year period, according to a new report published by a DC-based watchdog group, the Project On Government Oversight. POGO investigators came up with the number after reviewing documents put out by the Department of Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). According to one little-noticed OPR document published last year, a DOJ attorney failed to disclose a "close personal relationship" with the defendant in a case he was prosecuting, in which he negotiated a plea agreement to release the defendant on bond. An immigration judge also made "disparaging remarks" about foreign nationals. POGO contends that this number is only the tip of the iceberg and OPR needs to release more information about this misconduct to the public.  

"The bottom line is we just don't know how well the Justice Department investigates and disciplines its own attorneys for misconduct when it occurs," says Nick Schwellenbach, a contributor to POGO. "The amount and types of misconduct DOJ's own investigators conclude has happened suggests more [information] should be public than is already, including naming names of offending prosecutors that commit serious misconduct."

OPR is responsible for investigating ethics complaints at the Justice Department, but the office reports directly to the attorney general. POGO argues that this insular system might not be sufficient to provide effective oversight of prosecutor wrongdoing. Last year, for example, two federal judges issued court orders complaining that DOJ attorneys had misled them about the full scale of the NSA's surveillance activities—but OPR was never aware of the complaints and didn't investigate them even though a former OPR attorney said that they should have triggered an inquiry, according to USA Today.

Between fiscal year 2002 and FY2013, of the more than 650 documented cases of DOJ employee misconduct, 400 were characterized as "reckless" or "intentional" by OPR. In OPR's latest report, from FY2012, the office received over 1,000 complaints and other correspondence about Justice Department employees (over half of these complaints came from incarcerated individuals) and opened 123 inquiries and investigations. 

In one case from 2012, a Justice Department attorney falsely told a court that the government didn't have evidence that a key witness suffered from an ongoing mental-health disorder—when the prosecutor did have that evidence, according to OPR. The attorney was suspended for two weeks and the state bar was notified. In another case, an immigration judge presiding over a case where a father and his daughter were fighting removal from the United States was found by OPR to have "engaged in professional misconduct by acting in reckless disregard of his obligation to appear to be fair and impartial" and to have made biased statements against immigrants. The judge was suspended for 30 days

OPR isn't responsible for disciplining employees; that's up to others in the Justice Department. OPR also no longer publicly names Justice Department employees found to be conducting misconduct, although it did so for a brief period during the Clinton presidency. In 2010, the American Bar Association passed a resolution asking the Obama administration to release more information about Justice Department investigations, potentially including names, but so far, not much has changed. 

"The department takes all allegations of attorney misconduct seriously, and that is why the Office of Professional Responsibility thoroughly reviews each case and refers its findings of misconduct to relevant state bar associations when the rules of the state bar are implicated," says a Justice Department spokeswoman. "OPR also regularly provides detailed information on the resolution of complaints to the defense attorneys, judges, and others who send allegations of misconduct to the department."

A bill proposed on Thursday by Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) would overhaul how misconduct is investigated at the Justice Department. Right now, only OPR is allowed to look into ethics complaints, instead of the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General, which is widely considered to be more independent. The senators' bill would move that authority to the IG's office. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who supports the bill, says: "When Americans pledge to abide by 'liberty and justice for all,' that does not mean that those pursuing justice can creatively apply different standards or break the rules to get convictions—it means that in America everyone is held equally accountable." 

Study Links Frequent Facebook Use to Eating Disorders Among College Women

| Wed Mar. 5, 2014 6:37 PM EST

Facebook is a great place to catch up with your friends—or at least, the shiny, perfect versions of them. On Facebook, every day is a good hair day, and no one ever admits to staying home on weekends to eat cookie dough and watch Downtown Abbey reruns. All of this idealization might be dangerous to those at risk for eating disorders. A new study from researchers at Florida State University and published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders suggests that college women who use Facebook frequently are more likely to indicate disordered eating, and those who browsed the social network for just 20 minutes reported more body dissatisfaction than those who used the internet to research rainforest animals.

"Young people I work [with] say that overall, social-media platforms like Facebook have a negative impact on their body image," says Claire Mysko, who heads youth outreach at the National Eating Disorders Association, which advises both Facebook and Tumblr on these issues. "This is largely due to the way that social media fuels comparison and the pressure to present a 'perfect' version of yourself." (Their eating disorder hotline is: 1-800-931-2237)

In the first part of the study, 960 female college students, who received course credit for their participation, took a standard eating disorder test that asked them to agree or disagree with statements such as, "I give too much time and thought to food." The survey also asked the women how much time they spent on Facebook. The researchers noted that there was "a small but significant positive correlation" between duration of Facebook use and disordered eating among this group.

In the second part of the study, 84 college women from the first study who said they used Facebook regularly—and represented a random cross-section of eating habits—were then asked to get on a computer. Part of the group spent 20 minutes surfing their Facebook accounts, as they normally would. The other part spent 20 minutes on Wikipedia researching the ocelot, a type of rainforest cat, and watching a YouTube video about them. Both groups of students were told not to browse other websites. After they were done, they were then given a second set of questions regarding their eating habits and Facebook use.

In this study, college women who reported a higher risk of disordered eating were also more likely to consider receiving comments and "likes" on their Facebook statuses important, more likely to untag themselves from Facebook photos, and more likely to compare their photos with those of their female friends, according to the survey. Most significantly, the women who looked at ocelots were more likely to report a decline in preoccupation with their weight after a short period of time, while those who used Facebook maintained their preoccupation. The results also showed that women who surfed Facebook maintained physical anxiety, while internet surfers reported a decrease in anxiety.

"That these effects could be discerned after only 20 minutes of typical Facebook use in a laboratory setting raises concerns about how the use of the site throughout the day may impact eating disorder risk," the researchers concluded. They noted that their research did not address whether Facebook is any worse than say, using Twitter or reading Vogue, and suggested that further research be done. (Facebook could not be immediately reached for comment.)

This isn't the first time that Facebook has been implicated with eating disorders—researchers from American University in Washington, DC, determined last year that girls who scan Facebook photos are more likely to report body dissatisfaction. (Those researchers could not distinguish, however, whether girls with eating disorders are more likely to look at photos.) And last year, The New Yorker reported on a study done by a University of Michigan psychologist that suggested that people who used Facebook were more likely to indicate that they were unhappy. Psychologist Samuel Gosling told the magazine, "It may be that the same thing people find attractive is what they ultimately find repelling."

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