3 Lawyers With U.S. Attorney's Office in Minneapolis Step Down From Management Posts

Three lawyers in the U.S. Attorney's office in Minneapolis resigned their management posts and will return to prosecuting case.

U.S. Attorney Rachel Paulose confirmed Friday that John Marti, a first assistant U.S. attorney, Erika Mozangue, head of the office's civil division, and James Lackner, who heads the office's criminal division, have "decided to go back to being prosecutors," spokeswoman Jeanne Cooney said.

"The community will benefit from their focus on prosecuting high-profile, sophisticated cases in the years to come," Paulose said in a written statement.

She did not say why the three stepped down and indicated that she would have no further public comment. "We have work to do," her statement said.

Paulose, 34, replaced former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger after he resigned in early 2006. Prior to her appointment, she had served as senior counsel to U.S. Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty.

The three resignations come as Congress investigates the U.S. Justice Department's firing of eight U.S. attorneys last year and whether the moves were politically motivated. Its findings so far have torpedoed morale at Justice Department headquarters in Washington and in U.S. attorneys' offices nationwide.

Heffelfinger, who has said he left of his own accord, was not among those eight. However, Paulose was one of 15 federal prosecutors appointed after Congress changed the USA Patriot Act to let the Justice Department fill vacant U.S. attorney jobs without judicial review. She was confirmed by the Senate in December 2006.

Democrats and Republicans alike have called on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resign for the botched way the firings were handled and described to Congress.

In a statement Friday, Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse described Paulose as "dedicated to leading an effective U.S. attorneys 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," Roehrkasse said. "We are confident during this transition period that the U.S. Attorneys office will remain focused on its law enforcement priorities."

John Kelly, deputy director of the Justice Department's executive office of U.S Attorneys, visited Minneapolis on Thursday to try to resolve the situation, according to two aides in Washington who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. The prosecutors stepped down after Kelly's visit. The Justice aides said it is not uncommon for the office, which oversees all 94 U.S. attorneys' districts nationwide, to make such visits to handle personnel issues.

Marti, Mozangue and Lackner did not immediately return phone messages Friday.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press, citing sources it said did not want to be identified discussing staffing changes, reported that the three were unhappy with Paulose's management style.

Tim Anderson, a non-attorney who had been the acting administrator in the office, declined to discuss reports that he, too, had given up his management role.

"It's something that I'm not able to comment on. Sorry," Anderson told the AP.

Both of Minnesota's U.S. senators declined to comment on the resignations. New York Sen. Charles Schumer, a Democrat and harsh critic of Gonzales, said the moves in Minnesota were an example of federal prosecutors being "deprofessionalized."

"We wonder in how many other offices the same lack of confidence is taking its toll," Schumer said.