Sunday, March 25, 2007

Eyebrows Are Raised in Mich. Over Reasons for Prosecutor's Firing

By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 25, 2007; Page A04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- In the aftermath of the surprise firing of U.S. Attorney Margaret M. Chiara, questions outnumber answers. Was she dismissed for political reasons? For poor performance? To make way for someone else? Western Michigan's legal community does not know what to think.

The Justice Department initially announced that the reasons were "performance-related," an explanation at odds with the current consensus in Grand Rapids. The chief federal judge firmly disputed it, as did Chiara, who said she was told her resignation was needed to clear the way for a political favorite.

Some defense lawyers speculate that Chiara, who once trained to be a nun, fell out of favor with the Bush administration over her personal opposition to the death penalty. The administration has pursued capital punishment in several states, including Michigan, that have no state death penalty or rarely use it.

Amid the competing theories, most everyone seems to agree that Chiara's forced resignation after five years, in the middle of a presidential term, is puzzling and that the administration's handling of the firing and its aftermath did a disservice to the 63-year-old career lawyer.

"I see no evidence of any poor performance at all," said Chief U.S. District Judge Robert Holmes Bell, a Reagan appointee, adding that his fellow judges concur. "She hired very competent people. She's a person of high integrity. She has this strong moral sense about her, of rectitude." ....

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