Police Create an Office of Employment Counsel

Posted January 24, 2003 at 5:43pm

In an effort to make the Capitol Police a more self-sufficient agency, the department has created an office of employment counsel that will advise the force on workplace policies and practices.

Prior to the creation of this office late last year, the department sought the guidance of the House or Senate employment counsels on such matters.

Filling the post is Frederick Herrera, who formerly served as senior associate counsel in the House employment counsel’s office. Before coming to the Hill six years ago, Herrera spent six years as a senior appellate attorney for the Federal Labor Relations Authority. The new position will be administered by the Capitol Police’s chief administrative officer.

Previously, if an employment-related lawsuit was filed against the department or an issue arose regarding workplace practices, the matter was directed to the Capitol Police’s general counsel, who in turn directed it to the appropriate chamber’s employment counsel, according to police spokeswoman Jessica Gissubel.

That determination would have depended on which body oversaw the payroll for the officer or officers in question. (Disbursing authority for the Capitol Police is divided between the chambers, meaning that some employees are on the House’s payroll and some are on the Senate’s.)

“Now we can actually look at it and say this is our case,” Gissubel said. “The Capitol Police is growing, and so are our needs. Although we are all Congressional employees, our job descriptions are so different that we need our own employment counsel.”

The internal memo announcing the decision explained that the position was created to provide the department advice relating to policies and practices mandated by the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995.

The CAA was Congress’ first broad statute to apply federal labor laws and fairness practices to itself. It created the Office of Compliance as an independent office within the legislative branch to enforce the application of 11 civil rights, labor and workplace laws for Congress and its support agencies.

Since its creation, the Office of Compliance has been most heavily utilized by Architect of the Capitol employees and Capitol Police officers.

In an unrelated matter, a complaint was filed Jan. 15 with the Virginia State Bar and U.S. District Court alleging misconduct by Capitol Police General Counsel John Caulfield.

“As a chief law-enforcement civilian, as well as an official of the court, Mr. Caulfield’s conduct is prejudicial to the reputation and good order of the police department, the legal system, and the legal profession,” retired officer Duvall Phelps wrote in his complaint.

“As ‘gatekeeper’ for the department’s discipline process, the perception of Mr. Caulfield’s substantially unrestrained power engenders fundamental concern among officers,” he said in a statement.

Gissubel said that even before the position of employment counsel was created, Caulfield never oversaw employment decisions and he referred all CAA issues to the House or the Senate’s employment counsel.

Caulfield said he has yet to receive notice that a complaint has been filed.

“I respect the process, and they have a process for any complaint, which is confidential, and I feel that any discussions concerning it could be viewed as pre-empting the process,” he said.

“I am confident that it’s inaccurate, untruthful and unfounded,” he added.

Phelps said he filed complaints with the Virginia Bar, of which Caulfield is a member in good standing; the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, under which Caulfield practices as the Capitol Police’s general counsel; and the Supreme Court of Virginia.

Phelps cities incidents of public drunkenness, advising a lobbyist not to take a Breathalyzer test after the acquaintance was arrested by the Capitol Police for driving under the influence of alcohol, and injuring a deputy with the Sheriff’s Department of Fairfax County, Va., while driving under the influence in 1992.

The Capitol Police has investigated most of the allegations before, and Chief Terrance Gainer through his spokeswoman said that if there was anything new in the complaint, the department would look into it.