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Kevin Ryan, a former California state court judge serving as U.S. attorney in San Francisco, now faces a tough trial of his own—the exodus of seasoned prosecutors, sagging office morale and public criticism by a federal judge. As Ryan finishes his third year as head of the 115-lawyer office for the Northern District of California, which covers the coast from Monterey to the Oregon state line, he has lost a cadre of some of the longest-serving prosecutors in the office. Several assistants in the office repeated the same sentiment: The “heart and soul of the office is gone.” A farewell party invitation last week said it all: More than 150 years of public service is walking out the door. Seven of the 11 current departures are prosecutors. Since Ryan took over in 2002, nearly 30 prosecutors have left, most from the criminal division ranks. Ryan has come in for criticism from numerous lawyers in his office and a local news account for a style that is insular and aloof from staff, and for being someone who does not brook criticism and retaliates for perceived disloyalty. The most recent departing prosecutors walk away from significant roles in the highest-profile cases the office had handled in years, including the Balco steroids case, the biggest sports-doping prosecution in U.S. history that is set for a September trial. Pending cases left for others to pick up include the first case of economic espionage expected to go to trial since the 1996 law was passed, the prosecution of Reliant Energy Inc. and a major national antitrust case. The office also loses the head of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, who manages coordinated major drug prosecutions in several Western states. Ryan said in a prepared statement of the latest departures, “All of these individuals have served with great distinction and we wish them the very best in their future endeavors.” He added, “I am confident that the exceptional work of the office will continue.” Office spokesman Luke Macaulay said the departure rate has been roughly 10% annually since 2000 and the latest numbers do not deviate substantially from that. He added that there have always been qualified co-counsel participating in the high-profile cases, and “very able [assistant U.S. attorneys] have already been reassigned to the cases.” He said four new prosecutors have been hired, including one with 18 years’ federal experience. Yet several judges on the northern district bench have observed the departures with alarm. “There is concern among the judges that the quality and numbers of people leaving and their years of tenure leave a dearth of experience to train new hires,” said one judge. Inexperience showing? The inexperience may be showing up in court. In March, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White became so frustrated with a mishandled immigration case that he openly criticized the U.S. attorney’s office supervision. He blamed a “culture of continuances” in California’s northern district by prosecution and defense, unexplained tardiness in court by prosecutors and frequently inaccurate plea agreements by the government. Although White criticized both the prosecution and defense, it was Ryan’s office that had to respond to an order to show cause and ultimately pass a transcript of White’s rebuke to the entire office. “We take the court’s remarks seriously and we always strive to meet the court’s expectations and will continue to do so,” Macaulay said. “It is important to note, Judge White ultimately commended the work of the office,” he said. But perhaps toughest for Ryan to tackle has been the sagging office morale that spilled into public in January, when departing prosecutor John Hemann sent an open letter to Ryan that circulated to the entire office and much of the northern district bench. Ryan did not respond to written questions seeking comment on Hemann’s complaints. Hemann, who worked on the Enron prosecutions in Houston before going into private practice, vented his frustration: “There is a morale problem; there is an attrition problem; there are myriad smaller problems that grow larger by the day.” He complained that supervisors “do not have the freedom, autonomy and authority that supervisors traditionally have had-and need to have-in order to do their jobs the right way.”

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