The response was strong: Sixty-three said intially they were interested and 53 ended up accepting interviews. So far 13 of those have been offered jobs and all but one has accepted, and the process is still ongoing, according to the Justice Department.
Yet plaintiffs contend that these letters violate "the ethical prohibition on communication with a represented party on the subject of the representation."
"Despite my interest in working for the federal government, the timing of the letter and the existence of this lawsuit seemed a bit dubious and it made the decision whether to accept the interview much more difficult," said Dan Herber, an attorney with a Minneapolis law firm who applied to the program in 2006 and only joined the lawsuit after he received the letter.
Indeed, one letter landed in the hands of one of the initial plaintiffs, James Saul, now a lawyer with the Midwest Environmental Advocates, who applied for the Honors Program during his third year of law school at Lewis & Clark.
Even though he received a letter, the Justice Department lawyers are trying to dismiss Saul from the lawsuit, saying that his name did not appear on any of the spreadsheets for interviews that year.
But in an affidavit filed in court, Saul states that he is certain he was one of the politically rejected applicants. First of all, he believes he is one of the individuals wrongfully rejected cited by the inspector general report because he says the quote it uses from the unnamed applicant's essay is the exact line he put in his. Second, he states he was interviewed by the environmental torts section of the civil division for a position with the Honors Program in 2006. What's more, he states that during the interview the attorney interviewing him suggested he would be a better fit for the environment and natural resources division than the one he was interviewing for.
"I stated to the interviewing attorney that I agreed with her assessment, but that I did not believe that I had been selected for an interview with ENRD. The interviewing attorney expressed her surprise, remarking to the effect that it was her belief that I had, in fact, been selected for an interview with ENRD."
Though he says the attorney promised to look into the matter, Saul says he never heard back.
The Justice Department declined to comment because the litigation is pending.