Our blog has moved, and is new and improved.

You should be automatically redirected in 3 seconds. If not, visit
and update your bookmarks.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A perspective on Paulose: A tough tenure draws to a close

The news that Rachel Paulose would be leaving as U.S. attorney was hardly shocking. (See "Minnesota's embattled U.S. attorney steps down" in the Star Tribune.) And I am sure that there are many in the U.S. Attorney’s Office rejoicing. The gulf that had grown between our 34-year-old U.S. attorney and her staff was wide, and, in the end, proved insurmountable.

I believe that Paulose made the right choice in opting to end her often stormy tenure and accept a policy job in main Justice in Washington, D.C.

It has always been my belief that it was a management situation causing the disruptions at the office. Paulose has sterling academic credentials and a highly impressive resume for her age. But she had little real management experience.

Intent on impressing her bosses and no doubt deeply believing in her priorities, she plowed ahead and redirected the office without getting buy-in from the troops. She was also reportedly sometimes dictatorial in manner and abrasive toward subordinates. These are rookie mistakes frequently made by inexperienced managers. But when that manager is in charge of 100 talented individuals at the U.S. Attorney’s Office and operating in a fishbowl, there is little room for error.

While I am not adverse to occasionally giving an important role to a highly talented young person and giving them a chance to grow into it, such a person needs guidance and support. As far as I can tell, such support was completely lacking from the problem-riddled Department of Justice.

While I did not agree with all the actions taken by some in Paulose’s office (particularly those leaking information), I believe that their motivations arose out of the difficult employment situation they found themselves in rather than race or gender animus.

And I likewise don't believe the charge bandied around the Web that Paulose somehow has racist tendencies. As a woman from an immigrant family from India, she found that speculation particularly hurtful. I know that she is willing at the drop of a hat to give a long list of past accomplishments showing her interest and commitment to the Civil Rights area, including her recent work in human trafficking, which often involves woman from foreign cultures.

So what are we left to think of Paulose?

I had the pleasure of getting to spend some time speaking with and getting to know Paulose while I was covering the various management-related controversies in her office. The Paulose I got to know was neither the Wicked Witch of the West that some of her detractors made her out to be nor the “St. Rachel” of some conservative blogs (and for that matter, of Katherine Kerstin’s somewhat over-the-top salute in the Star Tribune last May, “The Real Rachel Paulose.”)

I found Paulose to be a highly driven and even at times charming individual who also is a fallible human being. She is definitely conservative, but not very political. (Ironically, had she cared more about politics, she might have been able to rally some political support when she needed it so badly.) She is a brilliant woman with encyclopedic knowledge. Most surprising of all was the fact that Paulose has a keen sense of humor – albeit a wryly dry one.

Unfortunately, most of Paulose’s subordinates apparently never got to see this side of her. Because of her poorly developed management skills, she came across as aloof, condescending and inflexible. She was apparently so busy being defensive after being thrown in at the deep end of the pool that she never let her personality shine through.

Sadly, I think Paulose was starting to improve in recent months. She was no longer micromanaging, but instead was spending a lot of time on the road on outreach projects and delegating the day-to-day operations to her experienced deputies. Had she adopted this approach from the beginning, we would likely not be at this point now.

Then Paulose made her final misstep -- issuing a public comment online about the internal dispute in her office. It is ironic that that was the nail in Paulose’s coffin. She was generally very shy about talking on the record about anything for public consumption, no doubt due in part to her inexperience dealing with the media. I suppose the battering she was taking in the media and on the Internet finally got the best of her. Understandable, but unfortunate.

It is my hope that Paulose will view this as a learning experience rather than accept some of the easy excuses some of her more vocal supporters have been offering her. She was only 32 when she was thrust into a management situation that most 50 year olds couldn’t handle. She was given little or no good support from an incredibly dysfunctional DOJ. She struggled mightily, but was unable to pull it off in the end. No shame in that.

In short, Paulose is a remarkable young woman with a lot to offer. While I think higher-ups in the Administration did her a disservice by moving her along too far, too fast, I am equally sure she has already begun contemplating how she can get the seasoning she needs to make sure she is properly prepared for her next great challenge – be that in public service or the private sector. In the near term, I am glad to hear the people of the United States will continue to benefit from her extensive talents as she moves on to a role that is, for the present, better suited for her.

In closing, I would like to point out that Paulose’s tenure in Minnesota has not been wasted. Despite the internal problems, the office did some great work in investigating and prosecuting child-porn and human trafficking cases. I would not have that forgotten due to the recent turbulence. Minnesotans can truly be grateful to Paulose and the entire staff of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for their Herculean efforts in those areas. It’s a legacy worth having.


Anonymous said...

Your perspective is remarkably insightful and fairly balanced. One can only hope that both Rachel Paulose and the U.S. Attorney's office can get back to serving the public interest.

Anonymous said...

yes, your blog need readers ... but a lot of us came to understand how those career "persecutors" in that office operate!

Anonymous said...

you said "nail in Paulose’s coffin"?????????

Anonymous said...

"She was apparently so busy being defensive after being thrown in at the deep end of the pool", you wrote.
on how many occasions?

Some of us wish she would come out and let the world know the real facts of her "learning experience". You're right ... she learned her lesson. what took her so long in spite of the fact that the ones who taught her the lesson were so..committed, skilled and focused on teaching her a good lesson. may be she was too focused on the job... may be she was trying to protect the image of the office, may be she was hoping that they don't have personal hatred towards her.
Paulose is not the only one who learned a lesson. A lot of people observed this and learned from it.

Anonymous said...

It looks like she was parachuted into an office in revolt. No amount of skill, good will or intelligence can create a functioning organization where the workers have bonded together against the management - they continue their guerrilla war no matter who's brought in. Even if someone is promoted from their ranks they'll turn on him.

The only way I've found to stop it is the iron boot. On the first day, fire 1/4, transfer 1/4. Then keep firing and transfering sporadically, and don't replace anyone quickly.

Department output will drop to nearly zero for a few weeks. After that, you have a chance to build it back up into a functioning unit.

Anonymous said...

The only thing I take issue with in your post, is the part where you seem to partially absolve her of responsibility for "the lack of guidance" from a dysfunctional Main Justice.

Something that one should be reminded of out of that sub-point, is, that if Main Justice weren't so dysfunctional, she would not have been made USA for D.Minn.

But for her Cozy relationship with - the actual political hack - Monica Goodling, Ms. Paulose would probably be at a job for which she is better suited.

She had no business being USA. And it's pretty pathetic that are those who are still willing to defend her.

"parachuted into an office in
revolt"??? How about an office that revolted because it's head manager was replaced with an incompetent know-it-all micromanager. The freakin top AUSA's all demoted themselves. That used to be considered a principled thing to do.

Anonymous said...

"The only way I've found to stop it is the iron boot. On the first day, fire 1/4, transfer 1/4. Then keep firing and transfering sporadically, and don't replace anyone quickly."

Thanks for the insight, Ambassador Bremer!

SWO said...

I’m sure many of the lawyers in the U.S. Attorney’s Office have seen “The Caine Mutiny“. It is one of the great courtroom dramas in American popular culture. I bet more than a few watched it when they were young and dreamed of themselves as the brave and principled advocate, the Jewish lawyer and fighter pilot Barney Greenwald, riding to the defense of the poor reserve Lieutenant Lt. Steve Maryk, against the cruel Navy system.
Personally, my favorite part of the “The Caine Mutiny” is the wardroom party at the end of the trial.
You’ll recall the scene, as the rest of Caine’s officers celebrate Lt. Maryk’s win in the court martial, the lawyer Lt. Barney Greenwald wanders into the party. He is monumentally drunk.
He proceeds to upbraid the Caine wardroom members for failing to support their Commanding Officer, saying in effect, none of this would be have been necessary if you’d tried to help him instead of fighting him every step of the way. During the lecture Greenwald turns to the Ensign narrator and says, “Now you're learning, Willie. You don't support your captain because you like him; you support him because he's got the job or you're no good!”

Greewald feels bad about winning the case too, in part because he had to destroy Queeg to save Maryk, and in part as he puts it because “the wrong man is on trial here”.
I agree with Mr. Cohen, and I’m sure that he‘s right when he says “I am sure that there are many in the U.S. Attorney’s Office rejoicing.”
Rejoicing just like the Caine’s wardroom members.
You hope they have a conscience to see it. Or the human feeling.
Because if they do, it may just occur to them the next time they watch the movie, that they didn’t grow up to be Barney Greenwald.
No. They today they are the anonymous cowards in the wardroom, who cheered as their commander slid on to destruction.
And in their hearts I suspect more than one of them knows they deserve to be treated like the Fred MacMurray character , Lt. Tom Keefer. That is to have a drink tossed in their face, and offered a chance do something about it outside if their Honor demands it.
Assuming they have any sense of honor. That sort of appeal to honor is sadly much less effective today than in 1945.
I wonder if one of them will write a book about this?,

Mark Cohen, editor said...

It's been a fascinating set of comments that I am just catching up on (was too busy scarffing down pieces of pecan pie until now ...) Many interesting points.

1. Don't really know what to say about that comment advocating firing half the office, other than I hope it did not come from the incoming US Attorney ...

2. Regarding the point about Monica Goodling, it is a popular misconception that Paulose somehow got her job because of her friendship with Goodling. In fact, Paulose became friends with Goodling after she was appointed. Most politicians would have jettisoned that yearlong friendship once Goodling was implicated in the U.S. Attorney scandal (or at least downgraded Goodling to an acquaintance or some such). Instead, Paulose chose to continually reaffirm that friendship at the height of the scandal. It was very loyal of Paulose and in many ways admirable, but not very politically astute. If you doubt me, check out the Strib's Nick Coleman's latest slash-and-burn piece against Paulose -- he mentions that friendship at least twice as an indictment against her.

As you all have likely noticed, I focus on the management aspects of what happened locally without a lot of talk about the national political scandal. The national scandal, of course, was also a contributor to what happened in that it emboldened the disgruntled local staff and caused a tornado of media coverage around the local doings.

In fact, we should keep in mind that, despite numerous media attempts to hook her conduct into the national scandal, it was never shown that Paulose herself did anything but make a good-faith attempt to implement the priorities she was supposed to implement. It's the way she went about it that rubbed some folks the wrong way.

3. As for all this talk of the Caine Mutiny, it’s put me in the mood for strawberries …

Anonymous said...

I hope the new USA cleans house. That office sounds like a mean-spirited, dysfunctional place full of people who have nothing better to do than sit on blogs all day, fire shots at their boss, and take offense when actually asks them to get to work. And Mark, with all due respect, you are simply naive if you really think the world treats a young woman of color the same way it treats a middle-aged white man. Without question, racism and sexism by the old boys' network were at least a part of what hurt Paulose. I hope she comes out and tells the real story of what it was like to try to lead such dysfunctional, ugly troops that seemed to take perverse pleasure in terrorizing their boss. Someday they will get it ... what goes around comes around.

Anonymous said...

"The freakin top AUSA's all demoted themselves. That used to be considered a principled thing to do."
They were freaks. Without question. And they were totally without honor. Also without question. Smearing your boss with character attacks is NOT a principled thing to do. It is the act of a jealous, spiteful coward.

Mark Cohen, editor said...

I can't say for sure how being a woman or of color (or both) played into this -- only that I don't assume that's someone's motivation "without question" when I don't have any evidence, since it is such a serious charge. In this case, racism allegations have been made by supporters of both sides. By that logic, are we to believe both? Personally, I would prefer to see some substantiated evidence before reaching a judgment like that.

As to the point about looking at the conduct of the entire office, I would suspect that will be done. I think there were actions taken within that office during the last six or seven month period that need to be seriously looked into. Regardless of whether you like your boss or not, there are certain actions you just don't take -- like leaking confidential personnel matters so they can be published on the Internet. If they catch whoever was doing that stuff, I don't suspect they will be getting any transfer to Washington, DC.

Mark Cohen, editor said...

By the way, I do recognize your point that, while much has been written on the treatment Paulose leveled at her subordinates, much less discussed is some of the disrespectful conduct leveled at her.

One example: Black Ink (run by former Star Tribune reporter Eric Black) is a blog that has been at the forefront of presenting information garnered from Paulose’s critics (and which one or more of those critics has used to leak internal information about the complaints lodged against Paulose). Last June the blog published a post entitled: Putdown for Paulose: Colleagues Clap for her Critics at Retirement Party. It was presented at the time as a way of showing Paulose was having problems in the office.

The post features a retirement party where Paulose attempted to honor someone for his service and for her troubles was publicly humiliated by the staff present. If this occurred as reported, I think that Paulose is the only one who comes off looking good. She apparently stood there without reacting so as not to make a scene as some staff members treated her abominably in front of members of the federal judiciary and others.

While some members of the staff complain they were not treated with respect, it appears their conduct was not above reproach either. As a wise old judge I once knew used to say, “There is no dime so thin that it doesn’t have two sides.”

Mark Cohen, editor said...

For anyone who is interested in seeing further comment on this topic, The Volokh Conspiracy blog was kind enough to make reference to this post. There are many interesting comments (50 at last count) on this topic at that blog.
"Click here to see that post and related comments."