U.S. Attorney DiBiagio resigns

Move follows Justice representative's visit to discuss review of DiBiagio's performance

Prosecutor to leave office early in coming year

December 04, 2004|By Stephanie Hanes | Stephanie Hanes,SUN STAFF

Maryland U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio, whose tumultuous term brought him rebukes from Washington as well as major convictions, announced yesterday that he will resign from his post early next year.

The move comes days after a representative from the U.S. Department of Justice visited DiBiagio to discuss the findings of a highly unusual review this fall of his performance, according to federal prosecutors who requested anonymity for fear of retribution from Justice officials.

But DiBiagio, 44, said yesterday that his move "was expected" and a "personal decision." He said that he had never intended to stay at the helm of the office even if President Bush won a second term and that he had told Justice officials months ago that he intended to leave after the presidential election.

"I promised my wife one term," he said. "The time that you spend here is astronomic. Being in the public eye, the criticism, it's very tough on your family. I think they've suffered enough."

He said he will return to private law practice. Although he has no job lined up, DiBiagio said, he is "pursuing a couple of opportunities."

There has been speculation for weeks about DiBiagio's future.

But the move yesterday still came as a surprise to many on his staff and in the legal community - DiBiagio had said publicly that he planned to take the winter holidays to consider his next professional step.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who has been considered DiBiagio's main political supporter, said through a spokeswoman that the U.S. attorney "did a fine job in serving criminal justice with integrity and commitment."

"He certainly left his mark on the office," said defense attorney and former federal prosecutor Andrew C. White.

A Justice Department spokesman would not comment on potential replacements, but there has been much speculation in the legal community about possible successors.

One name that has come up is that of Rod J. Rosenstein, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Maryland and now the principal deputy assistant attorney general for criminal tax matters at the Justice Department in Washington.

Geoffrey Garinther, another alumnus of the Maryland U.S. attorney's office - now a partner at Venable LLP co-chairing the firm's corporate investigations group - has also been discussed as a candidate.

Both men declined to be interviewed for this article.

Frederick County State's Attorney Scott Rolle and Harford County State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly have also been mentioned as possible replacements. Neither could be reached last night.

During his tenure of just over three years, DiBiagio had many successes - among them, the convictions of Lexington Terrace Boys gang members and the guilty plea of Edward T. Norris, the former Baltimore police commissioner and Maryland State Police superintendent.

But some critics said that a number of his prosecutions - in particular, an investigation into the Baltimore City Council - were politically motivated.

City Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector said yesterday that it was inappropriate for DiBiagio to launch his investigation into the council by subpoenaing five years of financial records from all 19 members.

"I thought that was a bit of overkill," she said. "When he went to that far of an extreme, it was obvious how political it was."

Such criticism gained more fuel this past summer, when The Sun published e-mails DiBiagio had written to staff criticizing the pace of investigations and urging them to make "front page" indictments in political corruption cases by November.

DiBiagio said at the time that he was simply pushing his staff to work harder, and that his references to "front page" and November were not politically motivated, as some critics suggested.

After the e-mails became public, the Justice Department issued a rare public reprimand to DiBiagio, saying that from then on, Washington would have to approve all Maryland corruption cases.

This fall, representatives from the Justice Department came to Baltimore to conduct an unusual review of the Maryland office - a move many lawyers said was another result of the e-mails.

The Justice officials interviewed prosecutors about DiBiagio. At least a few said their boss should be removed from office, according to sources in and out of the office who declined to be identified for fear of retribution.

Yesterday, DiBiagio acknowledged there were people on his staff with whom he was not popular. He said that was the price for trying to push the office to do more.

"When I came in, one of my responsibilities was to aim higher," DiBiagio said. "Aim higher in our drug cases, aim higher in our violent crime cases, aim higher in our white-collar cases, having assistants work harder, to raise expectations, to raise standards.

"And some people loved it. Some people didn't. It's not a popularity contest," he said.

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