U.S. Attorney Thomas O’Brien in Los Angeles is facing sharp criticism from prosecutors working for him who say he is pressuring them to file insignificant criminal cases to drive up statistics that make the office eligible for increased federal funding, the Los Angeles Times reports. Prosecutors said the effort to increase filings amounts to a quota system in which lawyers face possible discipline and other career consequences if they fail to achieve their numbers. It detracts from their traditional mission of prosecuting complex, time-consuming cases that local authorities are unable to pursue, they said.
O’Brien acknowledged he had set “performance goals” to reverse years of declining productivity in the office but denied that the goals were quotas. Increased productivity is important because it can influence funding levels for the office, which are dictated by the Justice Department. Because the numbers in Los Angeles have been on the rise, so has the size of the staff. O’Brien estimates he has hired 60 new prosecutors over the last year and that the office is approaching its full strength of 267 lawyers for the first time in recent memory. The disgruntled prosecutors say they are spending an exorbitant amount of time on less significant cases — mail theft, smaller drug offenses, and illegal immigration — to reach quotas. They cited the disbanding of the public integrity and environmental crimes section, a unit with a history of working on complex police corruption and political corruption cases, as evidence of a shift to high-volume, low-quality prosecutions. O’Brien said his move was part of a broader office restructuring to address a severe staffing shortage and steadily declining productivity, which had fallen as much as 40 percent from 2001.