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WASHINGTON � While Attorney General Alberto Gonzales labors to contain political fallout from the firings of eight U.S. attorneys, legal fallout in the field for prosecutors in public corruption, voting fraud and other cases may soon be felt, according to defense attorneys and others. Just the appearance of political influence in cases related to those firings and with the recent, unusual reversal of a federal public corruption conviction in Wisconsin, some say, will spur aggressive defense lawyers to question the political motivation of prosecutors in certain cases; make magistrates and judges more skeptical of the evidence before them; and perhaps even chill line prosecutors in their pursuit of some indictments. During an April 19 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Gonzales faced skepticism from Republicans and Democrats that he can lift the heavy shadow of politicization over the Justice Department caused by the firing imbroglio. Senator Richard Durbin, D-Ill., told Gonzales, “Your conduct of this department has made it more difficult for these professionals to do their job.” In Philadelphia recently, lawyers representing indicted Democratic state Senator Vincent Fumo publicly questioned the political motivations of the U.S. attorney there, particularly in light of the U.S. attorney scandal. Others � not yet publicly � are questioning the political motivations of a wide-ranging investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office in New Jersey into the budget process of that state’s Democratic-controlled Legislature. Democracy 21, a nonpartisan, congressional watchdog group recently sought assurances in a letter to Gonzales that there would be no interference in the department’s corruption investigation involving GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff. “I think as the department struggles to get out of the spotlight on this and explain away its actions there will be less and less deference and presumption of regularity to their cases,” said Stanley M. Brand of Washington’s The Brand Law Group, who represents targets of government probes. The ongoing scandal may have its greatest impact � a chilling effect � on line prosecutors who “all of a sudden” may become far more circumspect in pursuing charges with political ramifications, said Stephen Hurley of Hurley, Burish & Stanton in Madison, Wis., who defended Wisconsin state employee Georgia Thompson in a public corruption case brought by U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic that became a political football in the state’s gubernatorial election. A federal appellate court recently overturned her conviction after finding little evidence to support it. As for defense lawyers, Hurley added, “If, as in Georgia Thompson’s case, I challenge an indictment for being insufficient in a case that was as politically charged as this one became, I think the magistrate and judge reviewing the magistrate’s decisions too would become more circumspect.” Mark Sheppard of Philadelphia’s Sprague & Sprague, who represents Fumo, said a challenge could be brought in a pretrial motion to dismiss for misconduct. But that, he added, is a heavy burden for the defense to carry. Brand agreed, adding, “Any defendant who believes they have a colorable claim of prosecution for an illicit motive is going to seek to use that as a lever in their criminal case.” If a public corruption or voter fraud case arises in one of the districts where a U.S. attorney was fired, he said, or there was some documentary evidence in the Justice Department on that U.S. attorney’s status, “You’re going to see it come up. You would seek discovery on it.” Defense attorneys may try, but they won’t be successful “unless they put some meat on the table,” said white-collar litigator and former prosecutor William Hughes of Cooper Levenson April Niedelman & Wagenheim in Atlantic City, N.J. Right now, he said, “I don’t believe there’s been real proof [that] prosecution decisions have been made by line prosecutors based on political reasons.” From his perspective, said Abbe Lowell of McDermott, Will & Emery, who represents Abramoff and others in corruption cases, the worst fallout will be in Washington, where department officials already reluctant to review U.S. attorneys’ actions when asked “will run screaming into the hills.” Individuals facing indictments, he said, should have a legitimate avenue to seek review in Washington. “This scandal will make that even harder to come by and that’s bad for the system.”

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