3 federal prosecutors quit manager posts
The resignations of the first assistant U.S. attorney, who is second in command, and the chiefs of both the criminal and civil divisions of the office, were communicated internally late Thursday afternoon, according to a source with direct knowledge of the events. The job changes followed a visit to the office by a representative from the Executive Office of the U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C.
The resignations are certain to raise questions, especially in light of the controversy surrounding U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the way the Bush administration replaced eight U.S. attorneys around the country since August.
Minnesota's U.S. Attorney, Rachel Paulose, took the job in March 2006. No one has linked her to the controversy in Washington.
"It's just absolutely extraordinary that these three top managers would voluntarily demote themselves," said one defense attorney knowledgeable about the office. "I mean, it's a rank cut. ... And then it would be a salary cut, too."
A source familiar with the office said Thursday's resignations were more about management style and communication than politics. But they take on added significance because they follow a number of other managers who have voluntarily stepped aside since Paulose took over.
Those who left their management jobs Thursday are First Assistant U.S. Attorney John Marti, who was appointed to the job by Paulose in December; Erika Mozangue, who headed the civil division, and James Lackner, who headed the criminal division. Lackner also served as first assistant from March 2006 until Marti's appointment.
Marti and Mozangue declined to comment Thursday. Lackner could not be reached.
It's unusual to have multiple managers change in a U.S. Attorney's Office, said Hamline University Law and Political Science Prof. David Schultz. A new U.S. attorney "might change one person who's your close assistant or something like that," he said. "But as a rule, not a lot of change occurs beyond the top position."
Paulose, who served briefly under Deputy U.S. Attorney General Paul McNulty before her current appointment, said in a prepared statement that "the management team supports the decisions of the three who stepped down," but would not comment on what led to the decision. She said Jeff Paulsen, a prosecutor for 18 years, was named chief of the criminal division. The other two new managers will be named shortly, she added.
"Jeff Paulsen is a tremendous prosecutor of great integrity," said former U.S. Attorney David Lillehaug.
"It's unfortunate that his promotion came in these circumstances, but if anyone can do the job, he can."
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Minnesota has 44 assistant U.S. attorneys who prosecute criminal and civil cases in the state and on Indian reservations within its boundaries. It also has about 50 administrative and clerical employees.
Paulose is a native of Minnesota who served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the district from 1999 to 2002. She also worked in private practice for the Dorsey & Whitney law firm from 2002 to 2006. Paulose began her legal career in Minneapolis as a law clerk to James Loken, chief judge of the Eighth U.S. Court of Appeals, from 1997 to 1998.
She succeeded Thomas B. Heffelfinger, who resigned in February 2006 to take a job at a private law firm. He said no one asked him to leave or indicated any dissatisfaction with his performance. Paulose was 33 when she was appointed, making her the youngest person to serve as U.S. attorney in Minnesota.
Paulose said the three are excellent prosecutors.
"The community will benefit from their focus on prosecuting high-profile, sophisticated cases in the years to come," she said. "This office remains focused on our law enforcement priorities and service to this community."
Joe Friedberg, a prominent Minneapolis defense attorney, said it will be good for the justice system to have Marti and Lackner trying cases again. "John Marti, in my estimation, is an outstanding lawyer and I don't know as he'd have ever been happy as an administrator," he said. "Lackner and Marti are outstanding lawyers and really standup good people -- and certainly nobody's liberals."
Staff writer Paul McEnroe contributed to this report.
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