We in the media love a local angle to a story, which is one reason there have been so many attempts to tie the recent upheaval in the local U.S. Attorney's Office with the national scandal over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys. It's tough to sit on the sidelines with such a juicy story brewing nationally. So when U.S. Attorney Rachel Paulose's three deputies stepped down earlier this month, it gave the local media a chance to participate in the fun and games if only we could connect those darn dots.
The problem was that it required fitting a square peg into a round hole. As I pointed out in my last column "A management primer: Who moved the U.S. attorney's cheese?" the deputy dispute was exactly what it appeared to be, a managerial issue between a young new manager who wanted to change the status quo and strong-willed and experienced deputies with ideas of their own about how the office should be run.
Nonetheless, the attempts continue to tie Paulose's office with the national scandal. The Star Tribune reports today on a case involving a probe last summer by the Minnesota Attorney General's Office into alleged overbilling by an autism center chaired by Ron Carey, who is now chairman of the state Republican Party. In the middle of running for governor at the time, then-Attorney General Mike Hatch, a DFLer, referred the case to the U.S. Attorney's Office to avoid the appearance that any subsequent prosecution was politically motivated. The case is still pending at the U.S. Attorney's Office. (The Strib story published today is "Politics colored probe of autism center billing.")
So was this the ever elusive "missing link?" If Paulose's office has failed to prosecute a case involving a prominent Republican, doesn't that show she is tied in to the firings scandal and related attempts to politicize the office of U.S. attorney? Errr .... sorry. This one was an air ball. It turns out that Paulose prudently recused herself from the case.
But rather than just giving up he ghost at this point, the story then switches gears and goes after the assistant U.S. attorney who was assigned the case. The article maintains he had a conflict of interest because he applied for a judgeship from (Republican) Gov. Tim Pawlenty while the case was pending. Seems like a stretch to me to find a conflict here -- particularly given that Pawlenty had no idea that the assistant USA was handling the case and in any case wound up awarding the coveted judgeship to someone else -- but I suppose the Strib reporters didn't want to just write off all that time they had spent trying to connect Paulose to the national U.S. attorneys' scandal.
Meanwhile, speaking of the AG's Office, no one seems to have picked up on an ironic little fact reported Minnesota Lawyer's Bar Buzz column recently. Right about the time Paulose's three deputies stepped down, two of newly installed state Attorney General Lori Swanson's deputies departed from her office with nary a peep in the press. (See "Two deputies exit AG’s office," in the April 9 Minnesota Lawyer, password required.)
Swanson, a relatively youthful 40 and the first woman to hold the AG job in the state, is a DFLer. Paulose, a relatively youthful 34 and the first woman to hold the U.S. attorney job in the state, is a Republican. Hmm. We will leave it to you and the political blogs to speculate if there is any significance to the disparate coverage.