Outfront: DOJ's integrity unit declines investigations

The state Justice Department's new government watchdog squad has declined to formally investigate three-fourths of the complaints it has taken since it was created a year and a half ago.

An Associated Press review of case data showed the Public Integrity Unit has received 385 complaints from its inception in 2003 through the first week in February. It formally investigated 88 of them.

The unit also declined or referred to local authorities 167 complaints and reviewed 95 with phone calls or follow-up letters but not by agents in the field. Thirty-five cases remain open.

Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager set up the unit to combat misconduct in government.

But as the unit's reputation has grown, its seven-person staff has been swamped with quarrels over everything from local zoning ordinances to a stolen guitar.

It all translates to rejected requests and griping that Lautenschlager cares only about cases that might help her get votes.

Monica Burkert-Brist heads the unit and says the unit was built to go after cases that can set statewide precedents, not local political battles.