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THE NATION

In Vegas, attorney firing is an outrage

March 25, 2007|Sam Howe Verhovek | Times Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS — When Daniel G. Bogden was named by President Bush to be the U.S. attorney for Nevada, it was the culmination of a career dream for a man steeped in public law -- he had worked as a judge advocate general for the Air Force, a deputy district attorney in Reno and chief of the U.S. attorney's branch office in Reno.

But his five-year tenure came to what Bogden describes as a "sudden, shocking" end in December, when he took a phone call from Michael A. Battle, director of the executive office of U.S. attorneys, and was told, " 'We want to move the office in another direction,' " Bogden recalls.

One theory is that the new direction might have taken the federal prosecutor's office away from a corruption probe into newly elected Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons' financial dealings with a federal contractor.

It is also possible, as suggested by one internal Justice Department e-mail, that Bogden was canned for not pursuing obscenity cases more vigorously.

Or maybe, as another e-mail released last week suggested, there was no good reason.

The reasons for the abrupt dismissal remain a mystery, but it has sparked wide outrage in Las Vegas, with public officials and private attorneys alike rising to Bogden's defense, saying the man had done an excellent job and was wrongfully dismissed.

"I was flabbergasted when I heard this," said Sen. John Ensign, the powerful Republican who recommended Bogden, 51, a declared political independent, for the post.

Ensign said that the matter was "completely mishandled" by the Bush administration and that "a very good man has been wronged."

As Congress intensifies its probe into the administration's abrupt firings of eight U.S. attorneys, the Las Vegas case is very much front and center, with Ensign emerging as perhaps the most fierce Republican critic of Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales in the matter.

Ensign has pressured Justice Dept. officials to find Bogden a new position.

The reasons for Bogden's firing remain something of a potboiler here, though one internal Bush administration memo suggests some dissatisfaction in Washington that Bogden's office had not pursued obscenity cases vigorously enough.

While Nevada is not exactly short on potential obscenity cases, no one here seems to know what cases the Justice Department may have been discussing, and officials there have declined to elaborate.

Many Las Vegas lawyers and others familiar with the workings of the U.S. attorney's office say it had not bungled any major cases, nor failed to pursue corruption allegations.

"I was quite taken aback when he was terminated," said John J. Momot, a criminal defense lawyer here for the last 33 years. "I'm watching CNN and I'm looking at this man's picture, and I think this is a deep injustice to him.

"He was a very tough United States attorney," added Momot, "very thorough."

There is no obvious candidate to replace him that the White House might have wanted, as appears to be the case elsewhere.

Douglas Crawford, another defense attorney in town, also said he thought the apparently "politically motivated" dismissal of Bogden was unfair.

"A lot of us have sort of racked our brains as to why they chose him" for ousting, Crawford said. "He does not have a lot of charisma and flair, but he ran a good office. I'm a defense lawyer, I never really see eye to eye with any federal prosecutor, but I felt that Bogden was perfectly competent."

And John L. Smith, a columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, wrote recently: "Those looking for a good reason for Bogden's ouster won't find one. In fact, his office is credited with taking big risks by pursuing public corruption cases -- worthy work that in southern Nevada's recent past often resulted in the vicious lambasting of federal prosecutors and FBI agents."

During his tenure, three former members of the Clark County Commission, a powerful post here, were convicted of taking bribes from a local strip-club owner.

The Gibbons investigation, dating from his time in Congress, which he left when he was elected governor in 2006, is continuing.

In an e-mail the contractor's wife sent her husband before the couple took a Caribbean cruise with then-Rep. Gibbons and his wife in March 2005, she said: "Please don't forget to bring the money you promised Jim and Dawn." The contractor replied, according to documents that have emerged in the probe: "Don't you ever send this kind of message to me! Erase this message from your computer right now!" Gibbons denies any wrongdoing in the matter.

Another possible source of dissatisfaction with Bogden could be a case against members of the Hells Angels and a rival motorcycle gang, the Mongols. After a 2002 brawl that left three dead in Laughlin, many defendants cut plea deals that were widely interpreted as a victory for the defense.

Still, when Bogden was fired, several law-enforcement officials praised his tenure.

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