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Civil rights official is the latest to leave Justice Dept.

His office was accused of hiring based on GOP loyalty, not experience.

August 24, 2007|From the Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department's top civil rights enforcer resigned Thursday after more than a year of criticism that his office filled its ranks with conservative loyalists instead of experienced attorneys.

Assistant Atty. Gen. Wan J. Kim was the first immigrant and first Korean American to head the department's civil rights division -- a post he held for nearly two years.

Kim is the latest senior Justice Department official to leave amid a congressional investigation that has raised questions about the department's political independence from the White House.

Kim had been rumored for months to be leaving the department and is expected to join a private law firm. He worked at Justice for more than 10 years, starting as a criminal-trial attorney, and was one of the few Senate-confirmed senior officials left.

"For over a decade now, Wan Kim has served the Department of Justice and the American people with distinction and honor," Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales said in a statement Thursday. "Wan has worked his way up through the department, and I will miss his honest opinions and valuable contributions as an advisor to me."

The department's civil rights division enforces federal laws prohibiting discrimination, including at work, at election polls and even at casinos. In May, Kim's office reached a settlement with MGM Mirage Inc. that included $55,000 in civil penalties over complaints that two of its hotels were not accessible to disabled people.

Kim also pursued the illegal and exploitative trafficking of foreign women and children forced into slave labor in the U.S. His office helped reignite a decades-old homicide case gone cold, winning a conviction in June against a reputed Ku Klux Klansman who abducted two black teenagers in a long-ignored crime from Mississippi's bloody past.

But Justice's civil rights division has drawn criticism.

Last year, a Boston Globe analysis of Justice Department hiring data found that the office had been hiring lawyers who had little civil rights experience but strong GOP credentials -- highly politicizing the office, critics said.

Moreover, critics contend that the office has largely focused on voter fraud cases -- which civil rights groups charge are intended to hold down minority turnout.

In June, Kim testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the transfer of three minority female lawyers from his office's voting rights section. The move had been directed by Bradley Schlozman, the former voting rights chief whose resignation took effect last week.

Kim testified that he had been concerned by the move and that remarks by Schlozman appearing to question the women's patriotism "were intemperate and inopportune."

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said Kim's resignation was part of an exodus from the Justice Department that "must not hinder our efforts to demand accountability."

"Too many questions have remained unanswered, too many civil rights laws have not been enforced, and too many officials have resigned to evade the accountability that is to come for the disastrously flawed policies of this administration," said Kennedy, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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