Of the three U.S. Attorney nominees who’ve been reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, one – Joyce Vance in the Northern District of Alabama – didn’t wait for Senate confirmation to get started.
Vance on June 19 replaced the controversial Alice Martin, who came under scrutiny during the Bush administration for what critics called a pattern of politicized prosecutions. Vance is now interim U.S. Attorney, but her formal Senate confirmation could come this week.
In the meantime, we wanted to know: Did Martin’s departure mean the ultra-cautious Obama administration was finally ready to play a little bit of hardball? Did it push out one of those Bush-era U.S. Attorneys clinging to their jobs, even though they’re reviled by the Left? Martin’s office in 2004 dropped a bid-rigging case against Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman (D) after a judge barred crucial evidence. But the office of Martin’s colleague, Middle District of Alabama U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, successfully prosecuted Siegelman on the corruption charges that have caused such an uproar, prompting the imprisoned Siegelman last week to ask for a new trial, alleging prosecutorial misconduct.
We phoned Martin at her home in Florence, Ala., last week to ask. Her answer: absolutely not. She was not pushed out. In fact, Martin said she personally recommended that Vance, a veteran prosecutor in the office who was most recently chief of the appellate section, get started early.
Both Vance and the Department of Justice public affairs office in Washington declined to comment, so we only have Martin’s side of the story.
Here it is:
Martin said she received a “courtesy call” in March from an official at Main Justice whom she declined to identify telling her Vance would be nominated. “At that time I said I will tender my resignation,” Martin told me. “They said no. They asked me if I would please stay until they had her [Vance] in line and out committee.”
Then in June, shortly before the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Vance and two other U.S. Attorney nominees, Martin said she received another “courtesy call” from an official at Main Justice. “They didn’t need to tell me to go. I knew it was time.”
Martin said she immediately drafted a resignation letter effective June 19 – the day after the committee was slated to vote on Vance – and then personally called H. Marshall Jarrett, the new head of the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys, to inform him of her decision. Martin said she doesn’t have a new job yet and is taking the summer off to spend time with her children.
We also asked Martin about the rumor circulating that she had refused to hang the official portraits of President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder in the Northern District’s offices. “That’s not true,” she told me. “Those pictures are sent out by the administration when they have them. Ours were sent out, and we sent them out to be framed. They don’t send them to you framed. That’s what’s so infuriating about people.”
She said Vance had gone to Washington for her U.S. Attorney interview and apparently “made the comment that we didn’t have any [portraits] in. She came back from Washington with two framed portraits. They had a different matting than we normally use. … I’m pleased as punch she didn’t know what was going on, but that’s not uncommon for someone who is not the U.S. Attorney.”
Martin called the rumors she’d refused to hang Obama and Holder’s portraits “insulting.” She added: “I’m personally the one who removed George Bush’s picture. I certainly did. We had a new president. He [Bush] was no longer the president. I thought it was appropriate.”
Martin also took issue with the characterization of her as “controversial.” She said the 130 public corruption convictions won during her tenure were split evenly between Democrats and Republicans - in a state where local Democratic office holders outnumber Republicans.
However, the DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility is apparently still investigating Martin’s prosecution of a company called Axion Corp., which was acquitted in October 2007 of violating the Arms Export Control Act. Axion attorney Henry Frohsin of Frohsin and Barger LLC in Birmingham, who filed the complaint, told me Monday it remains pending. Frohsin has said he believes the company was targeted during the “Axis of Evil” era because its owner is Iranian-American. You can read Scott Horton’s piece in The American Lawyer about the Axion case here.
Vance, meanwhile, is a highly regarded prosecutor who worked at the white-shoe Bradley Arant Rose & White firm in Birmingham. A native of California, she is married to Robert Vance Jr., the son of judge Robert Smith Vance of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, who was murdered in 1989 after he opened a package mailed to his home containing a nail bomb.
Walter Leroy “Roy” Moody Jr. was charged with the murder of Vance and a Georgia civil rights attorney who was killed in another explosion. Moody was also charged with mailing bombs to the 11th Circuit’s headquarters and to an office of the NAACP. In 1990, the federal courthouse in Birmingham was named the Robert S. Vance Federal Building.
After Martin was confirmed in 2001 as the Northern District U.S. Attorney, she put Vance in charge of the office’s appellate section in what appeared to be an attempt to sideline her as a prosecutor, several people with knowledge of the office told me. But it backfired, the people said: Vance became well known and respected among 11th Circuit judges, whose opinion can make or break a U.S. Attorney nominee.
Here is the text of the email Martin sent to her staff announcing her departure:
It is with a smile on my face but sadness in my heart that I announce I will resign as United States Attorney effective this Friday, June 19th at close of business.
The smile comes from knowing each of you and the confidence that you will continue to do outstanding and impactful work for the people of this district and nation (and the knowledge that I am taking the summer off to spend with my girls before my eldest starts college in the Fall)! The sadness comes from knowing each of you – and knowing that I will not have the level of contact which has made the past almost 8 years so meaningful for me. Wow, I can’t believe it has been almost 8 years since I joined your ranks – you have had far more time with me than you deserved! So, as we learned in leadership classes, change can be good – just know that one thing will not change and that is my following your careers and successes. You are an important part of my life.
I have advised the Department of my decision to spend the summer playing and not prosecuting, and my recommendation that Joyce be designated Acting U.S. Attorney pending her Senate confirmation. Her nomination is on this week’s Senate Judiciary Executive Business Meeting, and I trust the process will be swift to her confirmation!
I am in Huntsville today, and Birmingham the remainder of the week. I will be coming by each office to wish you well, but know if we miss, I trust we’ll see each other at a party which is planned for July 16th to celebrate our successes since September 2001. They are many because of your dedication to the mission!
Thanks for your individual leadership and professionalism. There is no better U. S. Attorney’s Office in the country and I am proud to have served with you!
Warmest wishes for your every success,