Libertarian Bob Barr Rebukes Ken Buck's Conduct In Gun Case

October 18, 2010 4:27 pm ET — Matt Finkelstein

Ken Buck

You might think that Colorado GOP Senate candidate Ken Buck's anti-government fanaticism would play well with Bob Barr, the former congressman who represented the Libertarian Party on the presidential ballot in 2008.  However, Barr — also a former U.S. attorney and current member of the National Rifle Association's board of directors — is now speaking out against Buck's conduct during his tenure as a federal prosecutor.

In 1998, while serving as an assistant U.S. attorney, Buck declined to prosecute a pawnshop accused of violating gun laws. When Buck's boss decided to bring charges a few years later, Buck communicated with the defense about perceived weaknesses in the government's case. Buck's conduct earned him a reprimand from the Justice Department for the "reckless disregard of [his] obligation to keep client information confidential." Not long after that, Buck resigned. 

Buck has attempted to downplay the incident, calling it a "mistake." Writing in the Denver Post today, Barr argues that Buck's behavior shouldn't be written off so casually: 

When an assistant federal prosecutor is reprimanded by the Department of Justice for improperly disclosing internal government deliberations about a pending case to a defense attorney, it is not something that can or should be sloughed off as a youthful indiscretion.

There obviously was disagreement within the U.S. attorney's office over the decision to pursue the case against the alleged firearms violators, something not unheard of. Normally, such internal opinions are kept within the four walls of the prosecutor's office. This is not only ethical and professional, but pragmatic as well. If word were to leak out — especially to a defense attorney — that questions about the strength or weaknesses of the government's case had been raised internally, this would almost certainly provide grist for defense arguments to the judge and the jury; and would at least indirectly pressure the government to settle the case more favorably to the defendant.

Yet this is exactly what Buck did. He revealed to a defense attorney the fact that there was an internal government memorandum outlining possible weaknesses in the government's case. Buck did this, even though by his own admission he had not seen the internal memo. Not surprisingly, two years later the case was finally concluded against the three defendants on terms far less favorable to the government than it likely could have obtained had the defense not been tipped off by Buck.

Buck's clearly improper communication to a defense attorney about a pending prosecution was not only contrary to ethical and professional standards that govern attorneys; it also represented an act of disloyalty toward his superior...

Importantly, Barr notes that the U.S. attorney who issued the reprimand was also a Republican, so it "was not a partisan effort." He concludes that Buck's attempt to "belittle this incident serves only to reinforce the concerns that were the basis of the 2001 letter of reprimand in the first place."

While Buck's far-right views — including his stance on abortion and belief that being gay is a choice — have dominated the headlines, his legal career is haunting him in the final stretch of his campaign. Last week, the Colorado Independent reported on Buck's refusal to prosecute a rape case as a district attorney in 2005. In a recorded conversation, Buck can be heard telling the alleged victim that her complaint sounds like a case of "buyer's remorse."