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Heat on Rachel Paulose as three attorneys step down

April 07, 2007 23:30 IST

Minnesota US Attorney Rachel Paulose is under the spotlight after three senior attorneys working under her resigned from their managerial positions, protesting that she was both highhanded and politically motivated.

The incident gains attention at a time US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is under intense scrutiny over the dismissal of eight US attorneys, allegedly for political reasons. Like Gonzales, Paulose is a Republican.

The three attorneys who chose to step down were John Marti, first assistant US attorney, Erika Mozangue, who heads attorney's office's civil division, and James Lackner, chief of the office's criminal division.

A fourth administrative officer who is not an attorney also stepped down. John Kelly, deputy director of the Justice Department's executive office of US attorneys, flew down to Minnesota Thursday in an unsuccessful attempt to diffuse the crisis. Those who stepped down have not resigned their jobs but only relinquished their managerial duties.

Paulose, 34, is the first woman, first Asian and the youngest person to become a US attorney in Minnesota. She is also the first South Asian to become a US attorney in the country.

Her supporters at Justice Department said jealousy, and the fact that older lawyers found it hard to deal with a young, aggressive woman, may have played a role in the incident. They said she was trying to put into place policies important to Gonzales, such as programs to combat child exploitation, The New York Times reported.

The report quoted her defenders as saying that conflict had been steadily building since Paulose arrived as an interim prosecutor in February 2006 and that she had embraced the department's policies with a single-minded zeal that cost her the confidence and trust of lawyers in her office.

Through her spokesperson Jeanne F Cooney, Paulose declined to  give an interview to at present.

Paulose was cautious in her reaction. She said the public would benefit from having the veteran prosecutors handling cases. 'We have work to do. The office remains focused on our law enforcement priorities and service to the community', she said in a statement.

Democrats said the resignation was another example of politicisation of the US attorney's office, which should be above political consideration when deals with law.

'This is another example of the proud corps of US attorneys being deprofessionalised. We wonder in how many other offices the same lack of confidence is taking its toll. Attorney General Gonzales has a responsibility to see that the finest people are put in these positions, not simply cronies', Senator Charles E Schumer, who has led the Congressional inquiry into the removals of eight US attorneys, told the The Times.

But Brian Roehrkasse, a spokesman for the Justice Department, told the paper that 'Paulose is dedicated to leading an effective US attorney's office in Minnesota and enforcing the laws to ensure public safety. Three managers have determined to go back to the line to be full-time prosecutors protecting the community they serve, and the department respects their decisions'.

The US Senate unanimously confirmed Paulose in December 2006 though she formally assumed charge only last month. She was a senior aide to deputy attorney general Paul J McNulty and was appointed after Thomas B Heffelfinger resigned.

As US attorney, she oversaw all federal agencies, final authority for all federal cases and indictments, and management accountability for the Justice Department's federal prosecutors and support staff in Minnesota.

'Public service is a privilege, and for as long as it is my privilege to serve as the US attorney, I pledge to spend every day working to keep the people of Minnesota safe', she said when she was confirmed.

As a political appointee, her term ends when the president leaves office. She said earlier that she does not feel intimidated by the responsibility of her position.

'Being a woman, and a woman of color, has no significance. I have held similar posts. I want people to judge me for my conduct and work, not the color or gender', Paulose said then.

She had set her six priority areas as terrorism; economic crime, including fraud and public corruption; Internet crimes against children; gun and gang violence; drug trafficking; and civil rights, including cases of human trafficking, immigration violations, and identity theft.

This is the fourth position for her in the Department of Justice.  Earlier, she served as senior counsel to Paul J McNulty, deputy attorney general of the United States; special counsel for health care fraud; and special assistant to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

She also served as an assistant US attorney in Minnesota from 1999 to 2002.  During her tenure as a federal prosecutor, she prosecuted cases involving violent crime, illegal drugs, and economic crimes as well as affirmative civil enforcement cases.

She also worked as a trial attorney for the US Department of Justice in the Attorney General's Honors Program from 1998-1999.

She was in private practice for three years from 2002, including in Williams and Connolly, a law firm in Washington, DC, focusing primarily on business and health care litigation.

Paulose began her legal career in 1997 serving as a law clerk for the James B Loken, chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which has jurisdiction over all federal appeals from Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, and Arkansas.

She received her Juris Doctorate from Yale Law School in 1997, where she was a Coker Fellow. She graduated with a BA, summa cum laude, from the University of Minnesota in 1994, where she was a Truman Scholar and chair of the student representatives to the Board of Regents.

A Republican Party leader, she is active in the community, having served on the boards of the Yale Law School Fund, the Federal Bar Association, the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, the Harry S Truman Scholarship Foundation, and the Trust for Public Land. In the Republican Party, she was elected state, district, and county delegate during 1992-2005.

She said she has no interest in political office though she wants to work in public office.

George Joseph