Negative news coverage may have cost former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales his job, but it won him a dubious honor Wednesday from a magazine published by the American Bar Association: Lawyer of the Year.
Additionally, the ABA Journal named Gonzales' successor, Attorney General Michael Mukasey, as its top lawyer for 2008 — mostly in anticipation of how often he'll be in the media spotlight for trying to repair the beleaguered Justice Department.
The monthly magazine gave the awards to lawyers who made the most news, said editor and publisher Edward A. Adams.
"Think about Time magazine's Person of the Year," Adams said in an interview. "In years past they've named people like Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin. So we're not suggesting by these awards that these are the best lawyers in any sense of the word. We are saying they are the most newsworthy — and perhaps also the best."
Gonzales resigned in September after 2 1/2 years at the department amid investigations into whether he broke the law and lied to Congress. He has denied any wrongdoing.
A public furor that surfaced last January over the firings of nine U.S. attorneys, and whether they were politically motivated, marked the beginning of the end of Gonzales' tenure as attorney general. His conflicting public statements about the ousters led Democrats and Republicans alike to question his honesty.
Also, House testimony by a former top aide to Gonzales, Monica M. Goodling, raised questions about whether he was trying to coach her answers about the firings — potentially illegally tampering with a witness in ongoing congressional and Justice Department inquires. Gonzales has said he was merely trying to comfort Goodling at an awkward time.
It's unusual for the ABA Journal to pick its Lawyer of the Year even before the year has begun. But the magazine did just that with Mukasey for 2008, predicting in a news release that the new attorney general will be a top newsmaker "as he deals with the problems he inherited from Gonzales in the politically charged climate of a presidential election year."
Adams said the magazine's picks "do not necessarily reflect the official policy of the ABA." The American Bar Association is made up of about 400,000 lawyers in the United States.
Other high-profile lawyers that were nominated for the distinction included Goodling, the Justice Department's liaison to the White House who quit in April amid the political firestorm; I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff who was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in the investigation into the leaked identity of former CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson; and U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, the top prosecutor in Chicago who won the case against Libby.