WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - The head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, in a letter to colleagues over the weekend, apologized for remarks she made during a panel discussion last week.

“My remarks followed statements by my co-panelists in which they expressed their strong views about specific cases which they believed were mishandled by the Department,” Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell wrote in a Dec. 10 letter to fellow federal prosecutors. “I did not have prepared remarks for the event, and I certainly should have.

“Instead, I overreacted to the criticisms -- which I strongly believe were not an accurate reflection of the Department’s work -- by defending the Department in a way that inappropriately suggested that the care taken by U.S. Attorney’s Offices and others in making prosecutorial decisions was less than that taken by attorneys in the Criminal Division.

“And by making unscripted references to isolated issues in my recent experience, I realize that, rather than defending the reputation of the entire Department, I appeared to be criticizing U.S. Attorney’s Offices, Assistant U.S. Attorneys and other components. I deeply regret my remarks and the genuine hurt that they have caused.”

Caldwell, who was confirmed in May 2014 and currently oversees nearly 600 attorneys who prosecute federal criminal cases in the United States, said last week that some criminal cases brought by the federal government don’t necessarily have merit and that oversight of federal prosecutors, in some districts, is not what it should be.

“I acknowledge that there are cases that get filed that shouldn’t be filed,” she said at the luncheon held by The Federalist Society Thursday. “And there are districts where oversight is not what it should be.”

“The Limits of Federal Criminal Law,” held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., included Caldwell and attorneys Cristina Arguedas, Ben Hatch, John Richter and Joseph Savage.

The panelists debated the limits of federal criminal law.

The discussion was prompted by the DOJ’s loss of three major cases in the last year -- against FedEx Corporation, medical device company Vascular Solutions Inc. and the former president of pharmaceutical company Warner Chilcott.

Arguedas was the lead for FedEx, Richter helped represent Vascular Solutions and Savage assisted in the Warner Chilcott case. Each had pointed criticism for the DOJ.

But Caldwell, in her letter to prosecutors, said she should have known “better” to make the comments she did in response to that criticism.

“Last week, I addressed a group of new DOJ attorneys, and when they asked for career advice, I told them something that I am now going to apply to myself: Admit to your mistakes, deal with the consequences, and learn,” she wrote in the two-page letter.

“I love the Department of Justice and deeply respect our values, the work we do, and the way we do it, both in the U.S. Attorney’s Offices and at Main Justice. That by my own remarks I suggested otherwise pains me deeply. I made a mistake, and I am sorry.”

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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