Former U.S. Attorney Matt Mead (R) was sworn in on Monday as Wyoming’s 32nd governor.
Mead served as the state’s U.S. Attorney from from 2001 to 2007. He already has named several of his former colleagues from the office to his administration.
At the swearing-in ceremony and at the inaugural ball that night were several former U.S. Attorneys, according to former Colorado U.S. Attorney Troy Eid, who attend the events.
Among those in attendance were Bill Mercer of Montana, Johnny Sutton of the Western District of Texas, John Ratcliffe of the Eastern District of Texas, Tom Moss of Idaho and Susan Brooks of the Southern District of Indiana, according to Eid.
This story has been corrected from an earlier version.
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A former senior U.S. Border Patrol agent in Texas plans to ask for a new trial to overturn his conviction on charges that he shot a fleeing Mexican drug smuggler in the buttocks, The Houston Chronicle reported today.
Ignacio Ramos and his former partner, Jose Compean, were sentenced in October 2006 to more than 10 years in prison after convictions on charges stemming from the shooting, which prosecutors said the agents tried to cover up. President George W. Bush commuted their sentences on his last full day in office amid mounting pressure from conservative commentators and even many Democrats, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California.
The successful prosecution led by then-Western District of Texas U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton had become a cause célèbre in many conservative circles, with supporters of the two agents arguing they were simply doing their jobs. Prosecutors maintained, however, that Ramos and Compean shot a man and tried to cover it up.
“I know I’m rolling the dice,” Ramos told The Chronicle, noting that prosecutors could bring new charges.
Bush commuted the sentences, rather than pardoning the two agents, and so they remain convicted felons. Ramos told the Houston newspaper, “We don’t go into it blind. We talk about it, and we both know the risks. And it’s hard knowing what the possibility is. But it is important for me to be cleared.”
Sutton defended the prosecution and said it was “about the rule of law,” according to the newspaper.
The former U.S. Attorney said at his farewell news conference in April 2009 that the harsh criticism leveled at him by conservatives for his prosecution of the border agents has made him more aware of the need to get out in front of a story.
“The … case was an amazing tidal wave of misinformation. … I want to be a conservative voice of reason in the media,” Sutton said, according to the Austin American-Statesman. He added that he thought the two agents’ sentences of more than 10 years were “harsh.”
We reported in July that the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Ramos and Compean Justice Act, which would eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for law enforcement officials who use their guns in a crime while on duty. They received their sentences because of mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) is the bill’s sponsor.
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SEATTLE — More than 60 former top federal prosecutors attended the National Association of Former U.S. Attorneys annual conference here last weekend. Main Justice tagged along, and we confess: We were a little star struck at finally getting to meet many of the luminaries we’ve been covering since launching last spring.
Founded in 1979, NAFUSA (pronounced na-foo-sa) counts about 300 former U.S. Attorneys as members. Not all living former U.S Attorneys are members of the bipartisan organization, but admission is open to any ex-U.S. Attorney who has was appointed by the president, the Attorney General or a court.
The NAFUSA is a who’s who of ex-prosecutors. Many are founders of their own law firms, and several are partners at major international firms. NAFUSA can even count among its members most of the U.S. Attorneys fired in 2006 and former Georgia Rep. Bob Barr, who left the Republican Party to run as the 2008 presidential candidate of the Libertarian Party.
We even found out that these former U.S. Attorneys were a pretty fun group, despite having buttoned-down and high-influence jobs at some of the nation’s top law firms.
Not all of them wore suits. Some opted for open-buttoned polo shirts and jeans. A few donned cowboy boots.
They argued about which college football team was the best as they munched on banana nut bread and fruit for breakfast. They complained about the difficulty in getting their hotel showers to function correctly. They even discussed their nights out at the bar and indulged in a few cocktails at conference events over the weekend.
Despite coming from different administrations stretching back to President Johnson, their political ideologies aren’t evident as they share jokes and drinks with each other.
“After awhile, you forget who is who,” said Margaret Person Currin, who served in the Eastern District of North Carolina from 1988 to 1993.
But with Barack Obama now in the White House, there were a lot of new faces at this conference from the Bush administration.
Many of the U.S. Attorneys in this class work for firms like Greenberg Traurig and the Ashcroft Law Firm, which was founded by former Attorney General John Ashcroft. For many of the Bush U.S. Attorneys and most NAFUSA members, the conference is a rare opportunity to catch up with former colleagues.
Johnny Sutton, who served in the Western District of Texas from 2001 to 2009, said keeping up friendships is “one of the main reasons” former U.S. Attorneys join NAFUSA and come to the conference. “You really develop strong relationships with these U.S. Attorneys over the years,” said Sutton, who is now with the Ashcroft Law Firm.
But outgoing NAFUSA President Mike McKay, who served in the Western District of Washington from 1989 to 1993, said there is more to the conference than catching up with former coworkers.
“Most people join initially to see their colleagues,” McKay said. “But once they join, there are a lot of other wonderful opportunities.”
A highlight of the weekend were remarks from former Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, who resigned in 1973 rather than carry out President Nixon’s orders to fire special Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox in what became known as the Saturday Night Massacre. (We’ll have more about Ruckelshaus tomorrow).
Other speakers included drug czar Gil Kerlikowske; Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys Director H. Marshall Jarrett; Minnesota U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones; newly confirmed Western District of Washington U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan and Assistant U.S. Attorney Marshall Miller, who is the lead prosecutor in the terrorism case against Najibullah Zazi. Miller was honored with an award.
Dave Boerner, a professor at the Seattle University School of Law, also discussed ethical issues surrounding the Bush-era memos on harsh interrogation methods at the conference. Andrew Siegel, who also teaches at the Seattle University School of Law, gave a rundown on the cases the Supreme Court heard during its last session.
“It is great to come here and exchange ideas,” said former NAFUSA President Ed Dowd, who served in the Eastern District of Missouri from 1993 to 1999.
The exchange of ideas for NAFUSA is not always academic. NAFUSA members have informal discussions with the administration officials, who speak at the conference. The organization also meets at least once a year with EOUSA and the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee, an influential policy-making and advisory body that serves as the voice of the U.S. Attorneys in Washington.
NAFUSA Executive Director Ron Woods, who served in the Southern District of Texas from 1990 to 1993, said the organization is not “banging on the door” of the Justice Department. But NAFUSA helps out anytime it is called on.
McKay said NAFUSA rarely takes formal positions on issues since it is a bipartisan organization. One notable exception was a letter to Bush Justice Department officials that expressed concern about the firing of nine U.S. Attorneys in 2006 — including McKay’s brother, John McKay, who was the Western District of Washington U.S. Attorney.
“It is unusual when we, as a group, make a public statement,” the outgoing NAFUSA president said.
Although the Justice Department has been scarred by Bush administration scandals, NAFUSA members have not lost faith in DOJ. The former U.S. Attorneys continue to hold the Justice Department close to their hearts.
“We have an abiding love of the Justice Department and that keeps us coming back [to the annual conference],” said Don Stern, who served in Massachusetts from 1993 to 2001. “It is the greatest law firm in the world.”
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Former Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan urged members of the House Judiciary crime, terrorism and homeland security subcommittee this morning to retain mandatory minimum sentences for serious crimes.
The panel is considering four bills that seek to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes including crack cocaine offenses and law enforcement officials who use their guns in a crime while on duty.
The bills under consideration are:
-H.R. 834: Ramos and Compean Justice Act of 2009
-H.R. 2934: Common Sense in Sentencing Act of 2009
-H.R. 1466: Major Drug Trafficking Prosecution Act of 2009
-H.R. 1459: Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2009
Sullivan said that the risk of a long mandatory sentence entices drug offenders to cooperate during investigations.
“Without the mandatory minimum, a lot of the regional and national drug investigations would be stalled,” said Sullivan, a partner at Boston law firm Ashcroft Sullivan, which was founded by former Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, said at the hearing today that prosecutors in white collar cases and other complex cases are still able to get cooperation without imposing mandatory minimum sentences.
“There are ways to bring conviction without mandatory minimum sentences,” said Stewart, the wife of Office of Legislative Affairs head Ron Weich. The Assistant Attorney General has said he will recuse himself from all matters involving mandatory sentencing policies because of his wife’s advocacy work.
Subcommittee Democrats said mandatory sentencing laws unfairly target blacks and do not fit the crime.
The panel held a hearing in May about the legislation that will revise the 100-to-1 ratio between crack and powder cocaine penalties put in place by Congress in the 1980s. The decades old law gives the same five-year mandatory minimum sentence for the sale of five grams of crack cocaine as it does for the sale of 500 grams of powder cocaine.
Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer has stood in support of Congress’s efforts to eliminate the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing.
“We know the mandatory minimum sentences do not work,” said subcommittee Chair Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.)
Panel Republicans said some of the laws could be tweaked, but mandatory minimum sentences should not be eliminated completely.
“When the thermostat is swung from one extreme temperature to another, people get sick,” said subcommittee Ranking Member Louie Gohmert (R-Texas).
Sullivan agreed with the Republicans. He said there are very few examples of mandatory minimum sentences that were unwarranted.
“The vast majority received sentences that are appropriate under the current sentencing scheme,” Sullivan said.
The panelists at the hearing also discussed the Ramos and Compean Justice Act, which would eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for law enforcement officials who use their guns in a crime while on duty.
The bill is named for former Border Patrol agents, Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, who shot a fleeing Mexican drug smuggler in the buttocks and tried to cover the incident up. Former Bush aide Johnny Sutton, the former U.S. Attorney in San Antonio, led the 2005 prosecution that outraged conservative commentators and even many Democrats, most prominently Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California.
Ramos was sentenced to 11 years. Compean received a 12 year sentence. They received the sentences because of mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), sponsor of the Ramos and Compean Justice Act, successfully lobbied President Bush to commute their sentences in January, which set them free.
National Border Patrol Council President T. J. Bonner, whose organization represents border law enforcement officials, said at the hearing that mandatory minimum sentencing laws affect the morale of agents trying to do their job.
“This is a problem that needs to be addressed,” Bonner said.
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The Washington-based law firm founded by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2007 has scooped up four Bush administration U.S. Attorneys to staff offices in Austin, Dallas, St. Louis, and Boston. Johnny Sutton, former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas, will head the Austin firm, along with new firm partner, John Ratcliffe, who was U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas from 2007 to 2008. The Texas firm will be called Ashcroft Sutton & Ratcliffe.
Ashcroft told the Austin Business Journal:
“This is a next-generation law firm … The law firm of the future has got to be nimble, agile and capable of focusing resources based on talent and expertise and be able to deploy them where they are needed.”
As we previously reported, the former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, Catherine Hanaway, resigned April 17 to join the new firm. Also joining the firm is the former U.S. Attorney in Boston, Michael Sullivan, who resigned earlier this month. The firm will be known as Ashcroft Sullivan LLC in Massachusetts.
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In a news conference, departing U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton in Texas’s Western District said the intense criticism leveled at him from conservative talk radio and bloggers for his prosecution of two Border Patrol agents involved in a shooting incident has made him more aware of the need to get out front of a story. Without elaborating, he hinted at plans to be more engaged with the media.
“The … case was an amazing tidal wave of misinformation. … I want to be a conservative voice of reason in the media,” he said, according to the Austin American-Statesman. Sutton hasn’t yet announced what he’ll do next. His last day as the region’s top prosecutor is Sunday.
In one of his last acts in office, President George W. Bush (for whom Sutton worked when Bush was Texas governor) commuted the border agents’ sentences. Sutton charged the border agents with shooting an unarmed suspected drug trafficker in the buttocks and covering up evidence. He also said at Tuesday’s press conference that their mandatory sentences of more than 10 years were “harsh.”
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Reports Tickle the Wire. The former aide to then-Gov. George W. Bush in Texas had a tumultuous tenure, with conservatives decrying his prosecution of two Border Patrol agents who shot a suspected drug trafficker in the back. Read his resignation announcement on this page.
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U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton of Texas’s Western District didn’t get the impression from Obama Department of Justice transition team leader David Ogden there’d be requests for mass resignations of U.S. Attorneys, as Janet Reno asked in 1993, Legal Times blog reports.
Although Sutton was President George W. Bush’s former criminal policy director in Texas when Bush was governor, Sutton was villified in the right-wing press for prosecuting two Border Patrol agents for shooting a fleeing Mexican drug-runner and then trying to cover the incident up. The critics thought the prosecution would put a chilling effect on federal agents.
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