GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

Fishing Industry Stories

September 24, 2012

Second NOAA abuse report remains tabled

Approximately six months have passed since Special Master Charles B. Swartwood III’s second volume of case studies into alleged violations of fishermen’s rights by NOAA law enforcement was completed and submitted to the Department of Commerce for redacting non-public information, deciding on reparations and making the document public.

But still, there is no Swartwood II, and no clear explanation for the refusal to bring out the retired federal magistrate’s study. Swartwood reviewed 66 cases. Some date from the 1990s; others are recent.

The Commerce Department did not respond last week and Monday to calls and emails questioning the delay. A department spokeswoman in July attributed the delay to the range of time covered by the cases and the need for Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Black to get up to speed.

But former Commerce Secretary John Bryson had been in office significantly less time than Black had been near the top of the agency when he passed out behind the wheel of his car, Ambien in his system, following a series of afternoon traffic accidents, and resigned.

Swartwood’s first volume was turned around in a month before its publication in May 2011 landed with fireworks, confirming the most serious allegations against the federal fisheries law enforcement system, found to have been motivated by venal, vindictive and predatory motives in clear sight of top management.

A Cabinet-level apology and more than $650,000 in reparations to 11 of the businesses hurt worst by abuse of the badge came with the release of Swartwood I.

But there would never have been a Swartwood I if administrator Jane Lubchenco and her chief counsel Lois Schiffer of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had had their way in 2010.

Schiffer, who joined Lubchenco’s senior staff, had written a memo to her describing an approach, which Lubchenco quietly adopted, to ignore fixable miscarriages of justice and build a reformed enforcement system without looking back. An environmental activist, Schiffer’s reputation for executive privilege dates from her time with the Justice Department in the Clinton administration.

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