WikiLeaks hearing officer is Justice official

AP News
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Posted: Dec 16, 2011 5:20 PM
WikiLeaks hearing officer is Justice official

Paul R. Almanza, the presiding officer at Friday's pretrial hearing for accused leaker Bradley Manning, won a Justice Department award last year for his work in developing and advocating the department's position on hate crimes legislation.

The legislation, called the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, strengthened and expanded federal laws prohibiting hate crimes by allowing prosecution of violence motivated by a victim's sexual orientation, gender or disability.

Almanza is an Army Reserve lieutenant colonel.

His employment by the Justice Department, which also is investigating WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for his publication of classified U.S. documents alleged to have been provided by Manning, became an issue at Manning's hearing Friday. Manning is accused of aiding the enemy by leaking the documents. The hearing is to determine whether he faces a court-martial.

Manning's defense lawyer argued that Almanza's civilian job raises a conflict of interest because the Justice Department is presumably considering a criminal case against Assange.

As of September, Almanza was the deputy chief of the Justice Department unit that handles child exploitation cases.

He previously served as chief of staff in the department's Office of Legal Policy, which helps develop and implement Justice Department policies. According to federal court records, he has only appeared in three criminal cases, the most recent in 2004. All three cases are related to pornography or obscenity. He has not appeared in court in a national security matter.