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The number of attorneys defecting from the U.S. Department of Justice to private practice is mounting as the head of the agency continues to fend off calls for his ouster over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys. In the last month alone, several attorneys in key posts at the Department of Justice (DOJ) have taken jobs at prominent law firms. Although some of the departures may be attributable to the usual revolving door for attorney jobs at government agencies, the imbroglio surrounding U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is an unlikely enticement for attorneys to stay put. “I was ready to make a move,” said Bruce McDonald, former deputy assistant attorney general in the DOJ’s Antitrust Division. On April 16, McDonald became a Jones Day partner, working from the firm’s offices in Washington and Houston. Appointed by former Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2003, McDonald was also named to an electric energy competition task force by Gonzales in 2005. His move to Jones Day was “the right opportunity at the right time,” he said. McDonald did not attribute his departure to the Gonzales matter. He also said his decision to leave did not hinge on recent criticism that the Antitrust Division has grown soft. Since a 2004 court decision that cleared the way for the merger between Oracle Corp. and PeopleSoft Inc., the DOJ has not taken a proposed merger deal to trial. Other attorneys heading for private practice in the past month include former U.S. Attorney Matt Orwig from Dallas, who now heads Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal’s office there, and Mark Botti, who has become a partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. Botti also was with the DOJ’s Antitrust Division, where he was a litigation section chief. As a nonappointee who worked at the department for 13 years, Botti said that the recent trouble at the department had more of an impact on appointed attorneys than career attorneys. Also in April, Michael Battle moved to Fulbright & Jaworski. He was the former director of the executive office for U.S. attorneys at the DOJ. In addition, two assistant U.S. attorneys have left: Michael Pelgro, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Boston, is now counsel to Foley Hoag’s business crimes practice in Boston, and James Sheehan, who worked for the DOJ for 27 years, most recently as an assistant U.S. attorney in Pennsylvania, will become the New York State Medicaid inspector general, upon confirmation by the state Senate. Morale a factor Although troubles at Main Justice may not have a direct impact on the daily lives of those in U.S. attorney’s offices or career lawyers, the morale at the agency can influence decisions to stay or leave, said Jonathan Polkes, a former assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of New York. “It can have an effect on people’s timing,” said Polkes, a partner at New York’s Weil, Gotshal & Manges. The Department of Justice did not respond to phone calls for comment. The Senate Judiciary Committee is investigating Gonzales’ role in the firing of the U.S. attorneys. He has denied specific involvement in the terminations, although documents indicate that he had a hand in them.

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