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U.S. prosecutors quit in San Diego, S.F.

Critics accuse the Bush administration of forcing out U.S. attorneys to circumvent Senate confirmation of their replacements.

January 17, 2007|Richard Marosi | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — The top federal prosecutors in San Diego and San Francisco announced their resignations Tuesday as critics charged the Bush administration with forcing out a growing number of U.S. attorneys without cause.

The U.S. attorneys in San Diego and San Francisco, Carol Lam and Kevin V. Ryan respectively, did not comment on whether they had been forced to resign. Lam said she would leave Feb. 15; Ryan gave no date.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), in a Senate speech Tuesday, said at least five other U.S. attorneys have been forced to resign without explanation. She accused the Bush administration of trying to circumvent Senate confirmation of their replacements.

Such appointments were subject to Senate review until last year, when the Patriot Act was reauthorized with a provision that allowed the U.S. attorney general to appoint longer-term, interim replacements without Senate approval.

The departures, Feinstein said, come at a sensitive time as federal prosecutors are pursuing political corruption cases.

"The U.S. attorney's job is too important for there to be unnecessary disruptions or, worse, any appearance of undue influence," Feinstein said.

A Justice Department spokesman, Brian Roehrkasse, said senators would be consulted before the nomination of replacements, as has been the routine since the law was changed.

"It is inconceivable for a member of Congress to believe that use of an appointment authority to fill a vacancy is in any way an attempt to circumvent the confirmation process," Roehrkasse said.

Feinstein said she planned to bring up the issue at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday at which U.S. Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzalez was scheduled to appear.

Lam, a former judge, oversaw the corruption prosecutions of former U.S. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, a Republican, and two San Diego City Council members. She was criticized by some U.S. Border Patrol agents who accused her office of not focusing enough attention on immigration and alien-smuggling cases.

Ryan's notable prosecutions included the BALCO steroids case. His office also launched investigations of Silicon Valley giants Hewlett-Packard Co. and Apple Inc.

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richard.marosi@latimes.com

Times staff writer Richard B. Schmitt contributed to this report.

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