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Jim Vines had no experience as a prosecutor when he was appointed U.S. Attorney in Nashville in 2002, but he had a reputation for fixing broken organizations. And his mandate was to improve morale and boost the office’s record of prosecutions. Now he stands accused of trying to accomplish this by systematically pressuring older attorneys to leave and replacing them with younger lawyers. Vines, 45, has been hit with an age-discrimination lawsuit, and higher-ups in the Justice Department are investigating. Vines has denied the age discrimination allegations, and he suggested recently that some lawyers simply got their feelings hurt when he tried to inject more energy into the office. The lawsuit was filed by Larry Moon, a 62-year-old former prosecutor who says he suffered depression after his divorce and the death of his mother. He says his superiors piled more work on him in a calculated effort to get him to retire because of his age. He left in 2003. His lawsuit echoes claims made by Vines’ deputy civil division chief, Michael Roden, who sent the Justice Department a memo in November that reported what he considered to be blatant age discrimination. Vines “seems to believe that it is his mission to remove the senior, more experienced attorneys by any means necessary,” Roden wrote. Veteran attorneys were constantly criticized by managers, and their duties were changed without notice, said Roden, who is 46. He also accused the office’s civil division chief, Van Vincent, of encouraging him to be “tougher” on older attorneys who “are not cutting it.” Roden said Vines went so far as to meet with a former federal prosecutor at a large Nashville firm to ask about finding “a soft place to land” for older attorneys Vines no longer wanted in the office. A team from the Justice Department visited Nashville for two days in March to interview employees in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, federal judges and others about the allegations. The findings have not been released. Vines was best known in Nashville as a lawyer for Bridgestone-Firestone, overhauling the tiremaker’s environmental department in seven years there. He was appointed as the chief federal prosecutor in Middle Tennessee by the Bush administration. At the time, Vines said, he was told the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Nashville was a fixer-upper, with serious problems and internal conflicts. “I don’t think they could find anybody else dumb enough to want to do it,” Vines said. When he arrived, there were only about 20 Assistant U.S. Attorneys handling cases, while the offices in East and West Tennessee each had more than 40 lawyers on staff. Vines said previous U.S. Attorneys in Middle Tennessee had not lobbied hard for more attorneys. The number of attorneys in Nashville has since grown to 33. Assistant U.S. Attorney Deb Phillips, who has worked in Nashville since 1989 and is Vines’ chief prosecutor, said the Justice Department approved those new positions because the Nashville office is more actively prosecuting crimes. Phillips said the new hires have been a mixture of younger lawyers and more experienced ones older than 40. Under Vines, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has taken on higher-profile cases. The biggest has been an investigation into the awarding of state contracts under former Gov. Don Sundquist. So far, there have been three indictments, with one conviction. Vines said the changes in his office have been so extensive that some employees were bound to be unhappy, but he insisted they were necessary. “I think I’ve been misunderstood to a great degree because of the changes I’ve made,” Vines said. “I guess what’s surprising is that there’s just one lawsuit.” Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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