The Wrong Appointment of U.S. Attorneys Could Spell Death For the Black Community

Noble Johns

Chattanooga TN (BNW) –
The appointment of United States Attorneys who lack empathy, compassion and a sense for social justice could be the death of that segment of the Black community (Black Men) who most often is the victims of a racially intolerant criminal justice system in this country.

One of the spoils of war in presidential politics is the power to appoint nearly 100 top prosecutors across the country. But should filling these plum jobs be removed from the influence of cronyism and placed in the hands of the people?

The appointment of U.S. Attorneys is perhaps the most important domestic decision President Barack Obama will make! The job of U.S. Attorney is one of the most powerful non-elected appointments in this country. They have the power to prosecute or not in most high profile cases. Their offices handled more than 100,000 criminal cases and recovered $1.3 billion in forfeited cash and property in the past fiscal year, according to a prosecutors' trade group.

How Obama will handle the appointment of U.S. Attorneys is not clear? But, if he is true to his commitment to reform how government works, he will allow grassroots input in the whole appointment process. This could be done using the same approach that he used as a community organizer.

While he pledged bipartisanship during his campaign, retaining one conservative U.S. attorneys would signal the same direction as stupid Bush.

When President Bill Clinton took office, he fired all U.S. attorneys at once, provoking intense criticism by in the conservative legal community, but it was the right thing to do. How come the white man always have to be the one doing the judging, the prosecuting and the policing in this country? I want to judge somebody, prosecute somebody and police somebody. ... I don't mean white people, but at least I can judge, prosecute and police these illegal aliens!

Stupid Bush took a different approach, slowly releasing some of the prosecutors but keeping in place Mary Jo White, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, while she pursued terrorism cases and a politically sensitive investigation of Clinton's pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich.

The White House is under pressure from several fronts, both to appoint new prosecutors favored by members of Congress and, in other cases, to keep some U.S. attorneys from the Bush administration, which would be a betrayal to the people who voted for him.

However, several Bush holdovers were told before the inauguration that they could stay "for the time being." And, they are making it known that they want to remain in their positions, citing the high-profile investigations they are pursuing. Moreover, about 40 of the Bush appointees left of their own accord before the election, but dozens have stayed on.

Mary Beth Buchanan, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, who oversaw a recent FBI raid of fundraisers close to Rep. John P. Murtha told local reporters after the November election that she did not plan to voluntarily resign.

Buchanan had held top political jobs in the Bush Justice Department, where she directed the office of violence against women and led the unit that oversees the nation's U.S. attorneys. She is a member of the conservative Federalist Society legal group and cultivated close connections to former senator Rick Santorum, an advocate for antiabortion and Christian groups.

"It doesn't serve justice for all the U.S. attorneys to submit their resignations at one time," Buchanan told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last year. "I am open to continuing further service to the United States." Right!

In North Dakota, residents are pursuing a petition drive to keep U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley, a public relations campaign that was chronicled on the front page of the state's main newspaper. Wrigley's supporters say he needs to be in place to pursue a death sentence against the man convicted nearly three years ago of murdering University of North Dakota student Dru Sjodin in 2003.

And in New Orleans, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten has won the endorsement of the state's Democratic senator, Mary Landrieu, who praised him for picking up a heavy caseload after Hurricane Katrina.

Justice Department and White House officials declined to comment on U.S. attorney picks this week, but if the appointments are a bunch of good-old-boys, especially in the racist South, Black will be doomed to more of the same injustice they're experiencing in most state courts.

The appointments this year are, perhaps the most important in the history of the republic because Obama can take the appointment process out of political cronyism. The department's inspector general concluded in a report concluded the Bush administration’s hiring of prosecutors and immigration judges were tainted and suggests conducting a criminal investigation into whether several prosecutors were wrongly fired in 2006 because of politics.

Appointing US Attorneys in a new administration has always involved politics and local control over the positions. The U.S. attorney posts have been used to cover the corruption in these state courts. For example, most criminal courts in this country don’t have the professional integrity, disposition nor empathy to judge Black Americans.

Like Judge Sonia Sotomayor concluded, background and experience were considered essential in judging minorities. Usually, the selections come from the party in power. Most lawmakers view their decisions about who should get the jobs as a privilege and exclusive right because it requires Senate confirmation. The selection is so corrupt that the late senator Strom Thurmond once infamously chose his 28-year-old son for the post.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid said this week that he had urged the administration to name former U.S. attorney Daniel G. Bogden to a post he held until he was among those fired by the Bush administration. Bogden, a registered independent who spent 20 years as a line prosecutor, should not have been dismissed, Reid said.

Another example of cronyism is, Charles E. Schumer from New York, recommending Preet Bharara, his top legal adviser, to be the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, an office that traditionally handles some of the nation's most important business fraud and terrorism cases. Even though Bharara spent years in the office as a prosecutor before moving to Washington, the selection is cronyism.

Obama administration officials have confirmed they will OK a proposal by Sen. Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin that Patrick J. Fitzgerald, a political independent, remain U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. Fitzgerald is spearheading the criminal investigation of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich (D) — the public corruption case that spurred government investigators to interview Obama, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and adviser Valerie Jarrett in December.

These selections got politicians running like ants. For example, the process in Washington D.C. appears rigged because Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) always make the committee evaluate recommendations for the city's top prosecutor job. Former federal prosecutor DeMaurice Smith, a former aide to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., and D.C. Superior Court Associate Judge Thomas J. Motley are leading candidates.

Obama advisers say they have learned from past mistakes, including Clinton's decision to require all U.S. attorneys to submit their resignations. Critics maintain that move threw law enforcement efforts into disarray.

Richard Cullen, who was a U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia under President George H.W. Bush, said that crossed signals during the Clinton transition left some prosecutors on the street unexpectedly.

"We just got a call one day: Resign right away," said Cullen, now chairman of the law firm McGuire Woods. "That was at odds with what the Clinton transition people told the Bush transition people. Some people didn't have jobs to go back to, and had families to feed."

The appointments are so important, Steve Cook of the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys recently sent a letter to the Obama team urging it to consider continuity rather than firing the remaining Bush appointees as a matter of "political expediency."

"The preferable approach we believe is to permit incumbent U.S. Attorneys to remain in place until the new U.S. Attorney has been nominated and confirmed," wrote Cook, a 22-year federal prosecutor in Tennessee. Not good enough, keeping them on the job would insure the Bush administration’s cronyism in the appointment of U.S. Attorneys.

Lawyers who have been involved in previous U.S. attorney selections say the pressure to appoint well-connected insiders always has been strong. Under Bush they were white conservative men who had racial intolerance and carried on judicial mischief against the poor.

"I would caution the Obama administration against making wholesale removals of U.S. attorneys," said Mark Paoletta, who served in George H.W. Bush's Office of Presidential Personnel and in the White House counsel's office. Such a move, he said, "would unfortunately give the appearance of politicizing these law enforcement positions." But Melanie Sloan, a former prosecutor who serves as executive director of the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said the issue is somewhat fraught for the new team at Justice.

"They can't want all these people," she said. "These are all very, very conservative Republicans. I think it's going to be tricky, because if they do nine of them at once, the Republicans are going to scream exactly like the Democrats did."

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