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Second Government “Lawyer’ Unlicensed
By: Makebra M. Anderson
NNPA National Correspondent
Originally posted 4/11/2005

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – A second attorney working on one of largest civil rights cases in history is being investigated by the Department of Justice for practicing law without a license.

Michael Sitcov, the lead attorney in the controversial Pigford v. Veneman case, was unlicensed for two years, while making decisions on the fate of thousands of Black farmers.

“I think this is on purpose because this is the largest civil rights case in history for Black people,” John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association, said. “Michael Sitcov was an attorney for the Department of Justice, so this is not some flunky. He made mostly all the decisions on the case; therefore, DOJ should be re-looking at all of these cases. Undoubtedly, that’s the least they can do on this issue.”

Sitcov stopped paying his bar dues in October 2002 after paying them consistently for more than 20 years.

After numerous reminders, the District of Columbia Bar suspended his license between October 1, 2002 and November 7, 2004.

During his suspension, Sitcov continued to work on the case for DOJ, although it’s illegal to practice law without a license. He is the second DOJ attorney accused of malpractice.

In December, Magaret O’Shea, who represented Black farmers as a lawyer for DOJ, misrepresented herself as an attorney. O’Shea was hired by a Public Defender’s office in California. However, a co-worker tried to research her legal background and discovered that she was not listed as a licensed attorney.

For some, this is particularly deplorable because of the DOJ specializes in legal matters.

“This is especially shocking at the Department of Justice, where you expect the highest caliber of legal representation, that they would have two lawyers assigned to the same case that aren’t licensed,” Arianne Callender, author of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) report Obstruction of Justice: USDA Undermines Historic Civil Rights Settlement with Black Farmers said. “Did they just not pay attention to the quality of lawyers being assigned to this case? Did these farmers get second class treatment? It sure seems like it.”

EWG records show that Sitcov billed taxpayers for at least 1,096 hours on the Pigford case, including 389 hours during the period when he was unlicensed. The Justice Department acknowledges that O’Shea and Sitcov worked on the Pigford cases and guarantees there will be a proper investigation.

“The Department of Justice’s top priority is serving the American people—we take this responsibility seriously. While we do not comment on the specifics of matters under investigation, whenever there is any allegation regarding one of our attorneys, it is fully and expeditiously investigated. If borne out, the department takes appropriate action,” Charles Miller of DOJ said.

If the agency’s top priority is serving people, many wonder how they could allow so many injustices against Black farmers.

“I think there needs to be public accountability. For DOJ to just say they’re going to investigate doesn’t require them to actually do anything. They should release proof that their attorney’s are licensed and that they’ve taken measures to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Callender said. “They should also go public and agree to give these farmers a fair chance,” she adds.

In addition to requesting a full investigation by DOJ, EWG, a group that has been working closely with Black farmers to ensure justice, has also requested that Congress take action.

In a letter to Congressman Steve Chabot (R-OH), EWG writes, “…I request that you conduct a thorough investigation into the potentially illegal actions of these two DOJ employees, and that you take legislative action to ensure that the farmers affected by their actions have an opportunity for their cases to be reconsidered by the settlement’s Monitor.”

Chabot is currently leading the House Constitution Subcommittee’s investigation into previous accusations of wrongdoing in the Pigford settlement.

“America has placed its confidence in the Department of Justice’s ability to uphold the laws of our nation and represent executive agencies with the utmost integrity and competence. The illegal practice of law by DOJ attorneys is a serious betrayal of this confidence. This is especially true in the context of a settlement that seeks to make whole America’s Black family farmers after suffering from decades of unconscionable discrimination at the hands of the agency charged with helping all family farmers,” the EWG letter reads.

The suffering that EWG refers to started in 1997 when Timothy Pigford, a Black farmer, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in D.C. against then-Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman. He alleged that Black farmers were denied applications for loans and subsidy programs and their discrimination complains were ignored.

The USDA agreed to a $20 million out-of-court settlement, but 90 percent of the 100,000 farmers who filed racial discrimination complaints were denied access to settlement funds.

According to Callender, Black farmers have experienced enough discrimination from the federal government and it’s time that DOJ is held accountable for their actions.

“I hope that other people aren’t being treated as badly as the people in the Pigford case. This is a matter of national importance especially when you see this pattern of negligence within DOJ,” she said. “I think farmers are worn down—especially after six years of fighting within the context of a settlement that was supposed to be a really smooth process. They’ve had to fight the whole way and they’re just tired of fighting. They don’t have another 10 years of fighting in them.”

Boyd, who has been at the forefront of fight for farmers rights, feels that now is the time for Congress to intervene. According to him, the issues of Black farmers have to become the issues of America.

“There hasn’t been enough national attention on this subject. Everyone that has looked at the case can’t believe what’s happening, but there hasn’t been a real fix and that’s what I’m after,” he said. “I hope after all of this Congress steps up and makes a move. If they can step up and say put Terry Schiavo’s tube back in at 2 in the morning, I know they can make calls and do something for these Black farmers.”

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