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Sunday, April 08, 2007

New York Times on Federal Attorney Scandal Fallout in Wisconsin and Minnesota

As Congress investigates the politicization of the United States attorney offices by the Bush administration, it should review the extraordinary events the other day in a federal courtroom in Wisconsin. The case involved Georgia Thompson, a state employee sent to prison on the flimsiest of corruption charges just as her boss, a Democrat, was fighting off a Republican challenger. It just might shed some light on a question that lurks behind the firing of eight top federal prosecutors: what did the surviving attorneys do to escape the axe?

Ms. Thompson, a purchasing official in the state’s Department of Administration, was accused by the United States attorney in Milwaukee, Steven Biskupic, of awarding a travel contract to a company whose chief executive contributed to the campaign of Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat. Ms. Thompson said the decision was made on the merits, but she was convicted and sent to prison before she could appeal.

The prosecution was a boon to Mr. Doyle's opponent. Republicans ran a barrage of attack ads that purported to tie Ms. Thompson’s “corruption” to Mr. Doyle. Ms. Thompson was sentenced shortly before the election, which Governor Doyle won.

The Chicago-based United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit seemed shocked by the injustice of her conviction. It took the extraordinary step of releasing Ms. Thompson from prison immediately after hearing arguments, without waiting to issue a ruling. One of the judges hinted that Ms. Thompson may have been railroaded. “It strikes me that your evidence is beyond thin,” Judge Diane Wood told the lawyer from Mr. Biskupic’s office.

There is also trouble in the Minnesota United States attorney’s office, where the administration recently installed Rachel Paulose, a 34-year-old with scant management experience. Three of her top assistants have resigned their management positions, and The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that they did so out of dissatisfaction with her. Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, said the resignations were more evidence of the attorneys’ offices being “deprofessionalized.”

Paulose doesn't appear to be a natural at management.