Buchanan doesn't plan to step down as U.S. attorney

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Despite a new administration coming into power, U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan said she plans to stick around.

"It doesn't serve justice for all the U.S. attorneys to submit their resignations all at one time," she said yesterday.

U.S. attorneys serve at the discretion of the president and may be hired and fired at will, although their appointments must be confirmed by the Senate. When a new president is elected, U.S. attorneys of both parties generally tender their resignations.

Instead, the Republican said she plans to continue her work in the Western District of Pennsylvania. More than that, she said she would consider working in the Obama administration. She would not discuss what her future might hold beyond the U.S. attorney's office.

"I am open to considering further service to the United States," Ms. Buchanan said.

Appointed U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh in September 2001, the University of Pittsburgh law school graduate has worked in the federal prosecutor's office since 1988.

As top federal law enforcement officer in the Western District, Ms. Buchanan has pursued charges in several high-profile cases. They include the prosecution of four members of the Allegheny County sheriff's office; a drug paraphernalia case against comic Tommy Chong for selling bongs online; and an unusual case against Extreme Associates, a California company that makes graphic pornography.

Perhaps the most controversial is the ongoing case against former Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril H. Wecht on charges of misusing his public office to gain privately in his pathology business.

She has said that she will continue that work.

It is typical for U.S. attorneys to offer resignations when a new president is elected, said Georgetown University law professor Paul Rothstein.

Sometimes, federal prosecutors will submit letters of resignation to the White House even before a presidential election. Or they may wait and submit them after the election, he said.

In either case, the new president typically will accept those resignations during the first year of the administration.

Since the Nov. 4 election, three U.S. attorneys have stepped down, and two have announced plans to leave in January, according to the Department of Justice.

When a prosecutor leaves before a new president comes in, Mr. Rothstein said, it is likely so that he or she can get the most mileage out of the position of U.S. attorney.

"More often, the motivation is to take the expertise you've gotten trying cases and take it to the private sector and make more money," he said. "You're still very valuable as a U.S. attorney leaving office."

But it's not always the case that a top federal prosecutor steps down. If the U.S. attorney is in the middle of an important investigation, Mr. Rothstein said, the prosecutor may try to stay on.

Ms. Buchanan was appointed by President George W. Bush in September 2001. During her tenure, she has served in several high-profile positions within the Justice Department, including as director of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys from May 2004 to June 2005.

That role led to her being called before congressional investigators last year to talk about the firings of federal prosecutors around the nation in 2006. Ms. Buchanan said she had little if any involvement in the firings, and a report issued in September by the Justice Department found no wrongdoing on her part.

Ms. Buchanan also served a one-year term as chairwoman of the Attorney General's Advisory Committee under Mr. Bush's first attorney general, John Ashcroft, and later was named acting director of the Office on Violence Against Women.

Paula Reed Ward can be reached at pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.


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