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Now that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has testified about the firings of several U.S. attorneys, the moment of highest drama in this story may have passed. But among the many things Americans are wondering about, at or near the top of the list is why a job as important as a federal prosecutor is often held by people so beholden to political whims. And no matter how hard it is for Americans to understand this, it is even harder for those following this story in other countries. Ask someone in Berlin or London about this story, and you might be on the receiving end of a few blank stares. That is because the large majority of other countries around the world with mature legal systems do not treat their prosecutors in quite the same politicized way that we do and always have. And, no matter what becomes of Gonzales, we might all benefit from considering following their lead. Politics is involved in who gets to be a prosecutor, what a prosecutor does once in office and how a prosecutor stays in office. For starters, all but a few states elect all of their chief prosecutors. At the federal level, of course, the U.S. attorneys are appointed by the president with the consent of the Senate, and then removed by the president. It should be no surprise, then, that so many leading political figures are former prosecutors: Rudolph Giuliani and John Kerry, just to name two. But if we were to broaden our lens, and look at how other countries do things, we would notice stark differences. In most other countries with developed and successful legal systems, basically all prosecutors are professionalized, nonpolitical bureaucrats, hired and promoted through a process we might understand more as a civil service process. Now, to be sure, there are major differences in how exactly these civil service regimes work. In some countries, prosecutors operate historically out of a ministry of justice (e.g., France and Germany); in others (e.g., England), there is more of a semi-autonomous prosecutorial governmental organization. And, in some countries (most notably, perhaps, Spain and Italy), prosecutors do indeed sometimes become political figures. But despite these differences, there is one commonality: Prosecutors are more bureaucrats than junior varsity politicians, particularly when compared to the U.S. scene. If so many other countries with mature and developed legal systems have agreed on this approach, might this be something we think about once the dust settles from this current scandal? In a word, yes. Politics is not the best way of deciding who is guilty, and indeed might be the worst way. Some of the worst pathologies of politics � pandering, discrimination, superficiality � do find their way into the behavior of politically accountable prosecutors. And the American public, observing that politics and prosecution might not mix all that well, seems to be reacting negatively to the Gonzales story because it does not like the politicized way we do things. So it might be time to think about making the appointment of U.S. attorneys � and indeed, maybe all prosecutors, state or federal � far less political and politically accountable, either by statute or by constitutional amendment. But we should not go too far. Politics should be part of the game, even if a much less central part. If we were to make prosecutors almost entirely independent of politics, we would sacrifice some things. In countries with independent prosecutors, quite often these prosecutors have gone too far, becoming too aggressive or, perhaps even worse, corrupt. Indeed, we have had experience with this phenomenon in the United States, with the now defunct independent counsel law, and politically independent prosecutors such as Kenneth Starr, who many thought went too far but faced no political or other check on his behavior. When prosecutors do not have to answer to the people, they can get carried away. Finding the right balance The key, then, is to balance, rather than eliminate, political independence and political accountability. We have some wonderful examples that can serve as a starting point for discussion, particularly from overseas but also from within our own legal system. In some other countries, prosecutors are picked from a slate of qualified candidates put forward by local judges and lawyers (and, closer to home, Connecticut has some experience with this method). Or we might consider using a purely meritocratic, civil service-style system to determine who gets hired, but then, as in other countries and as in the case of some U.S. administrative agencies, permit political figures to remove any potential meritocratic appointment with very good cause, such as evidence of corruption. This mix � of merit and politics, of independence and accountability � should be the way forward for the always-controversial American prosecutor. Years from now, we might not remember who Monica Goodling or Kyle Sampson are, but we might all remember the Gonzales situation more fondly if we consider making some of these changes. David Fontana is associate professor of law at George Washington University Law School.

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