FIU Hires Acosta as Law Dean, Opens "Rift" With Black Faculty

Update: Donald Trump announced February 16, 2017, that R. Alexander Acosta was his new pick to run the Labor Department after the president's original choice, Carl's Jr. and Hardees CEO Andy Puzder, dropped out.

What's the deal with Florida International University and controversial hires these days?

First FIU plucks Isiah Thomas off the New York tabloid trash heap and gives him the reins of the basketball program. Now the school is handing its law school over to U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta, who might not have generated as much press as Thomas but is sure to kick up a storm with the faculty.

At issue is Acosta's job before taking over as Miami's top federal prosecutor. The Magic City native spent two years as chief of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division from 2003 to 2005 — the same period that Bush wingnut Brad Schlozman ran wild hiring every conservative lawyer he could find and turning the judicial branch into a GOP echo chamber.

"Acosta's history in the Civil Rights Division has caused a rift with the black community," H.T. Smith, director of FIU's trial advocacy program, tells New Times.

Schlozman was completely slammed by the Justice Department's internal investigation into his hiring practices (which you can read here). The guy unabashedly politicized the judicial wing. Here are a few choice quotes from Schlozman in emails and voicemails unearthed during the inquiry:

  • "I just want to make sure we don't start confining ourselves to, you know, politburo members because they happen to be a member of some, you know, psychopathic left-wing organization designed to overthrow the government."
  • "I too get to work with mold spores, but here in Civil Rights we call them Voting Section Attorneys."
  • "Perhaps the Division will name an award for me or something. How about the Brad Schlozman Award for Most Effectively Breaking the Will of Liberal Partisan Bureaucrats. I would be happy to come back for the awards ceremony."
  • He called civil rights attorneys "pinkos" and "commies" and proudly described hiring "real Americans" and "bitch-slapping a bunch of attorneys" he decided were too liberal for his department.

So why should FIU care about Schlozman's unhinged hiring methods (which led to 63 of the 65 attorneys he hired coincidentally having conservative credentials)?

Because Acosta was his boss. And the report also slams Acosta, saying he "failed to execute enough oversight."

It's enough to have Smith worried about his law school. He blazed trails for African-American lawyers in Miami, becoming the city's first black assistant public defender in 1973. He says Acosta needs to meet soon with minority faculty to explain his conduct at the Justice Department wing meant to protect minority voters.

"I hope he would do what he can to heal the rift," Smith says. "He needs to reach out to professors and staff in the FIU community. And he needs to do it quickly." 

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink