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At one time he was a rising star in GOP

Ousted U.S. Atty. David C. Iglesias was being groomed, some say.

March 07, 2007|Nicholas Riccardi | Times Staff Writer

Until recently, David C. Iglesias was best known in New Mexico as one of the role models for the military lawyer Tom Cruise played in "A Few Good Men."

A trim, straight-backed former Navy lawyer, Iglesias rode that all-American reputation to high levels in Republican politics: He nearly became the state attorney general and was appointed U.S. attorney.

Now Iglesias has a new role: star witness. The Bush administration fired him in December and contended it was for poor job performance. On Tuesday, Iglesias, 49, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that two prominent Republican politicians had called him to ask whether indictments would be filed before the November election against Democratic politicians in an ongoing criminal investigation. In the weeks that followed, Iglesias and seven other federal prosecutors were forced to resign.

"I felt sick afterwards," Iglesias said of his response to the second call, which was made by Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.).

To friends and observers in New Mexico, the only surprise is the speed at which the GOP establishment has turned on one of its rising stars.

"You'd be hard pressed to find a more ethical, straight-shooter type than David Iglesias," said Jerry Walz, an Albuquerque lawyer and longtime friend for whom Iglesias briefly worked. "Here you have this dramatic rise to a very prominent position. He has movie-star good looks in his own right. He has everything going for him, and this is why this is such a dramatic event."

Iglesias, an evangelical Christian, was born in Panama, where his father was a missionary. His family moved to New Mexico when he was 12. After graduating from the University of New Mexico's law school, Iglesias became a Navy judge advocate general.

In 1986, he was one of three JAGs who represented Marines accused of attempted murder for a hazing incident that their lawyers argued was encouraged by commanders at Guantanamo Bay. The successful defense helped the Marines avoid serious penalties, and the case inspired the hit Broadway play "A Few Good Men" and the later film. Iglesias was not consulted during the production of the play or movie.

He left the Navy but remains a captain in the reserves. He returned to New Mexico to start a family. Iglesias left a job in the Albuquerque city attorney's office to become a White House fellow in the Clinton administration. He then returned to New Mexico and ran for state attorney general in 1998, narrowly losing.

After George W. Bush was elected president in 2000, New Mexico Republicans, led by Domenici, lobbied for Iglesias' appointment as U.S. attorney. The expectation was that he would follow up his tenure with another run for public office.

"They felt they were grooming him for a political career," said Joe Monahan, a New Mexico political blogger.

Iglesias didn't make an initial splash. "He was very quiet," Monahan said. He earned the ire of the state GOP by refusing to prosecute anyone for voter fraud after the 2004 elections, despite some Republicans' contention that 15-year-olds voted. Iglesias said he could find no federal crimes.

The highlight of his term was the prosecution of state Treasurer Robert Vigil for extortion. Though Vigil is a Democrat from a prominent New Mexico political family, Iglesias' prosecution was seen as nonpartisan and was supported by Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson. The first trial ended in a mistrial, but Vigil was convicted last year.

At the same time, New Mexico media were full of speculation about Iglesias' investigation of local Democratic politicians' involvement in the construction of an Albuquerque courthouse. That was the case that Domenici and Republican Rep. Heather A. Wilson had inquired about. The two politicians have denied they were trying to influence Iglesias.

David Campbell, a Democrat who was Albuquerque's city attorney when Iglesias worked in the office, said his friend's actions showed his character.

"As a Bush appointee he's a stellar appointment, a right-wing evangelical Christian but somebody who plays his professional life with a lot of integrity," Campbell said. "You couldn't say a bad word about the guy."

nicholas.riccardi@latimes.com

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