WASHINGTON -- Frank Magill, a top assistant in the U.S. attorney's office in Minnesota, was named Thursday to replace Rachel Paulose, whose short tenure as the state's chief federal law-enforcement official was marked by internal discord and political controversy.
Magill, former chief of white-collar prosecution, was named acting U.S. attorney for Minnesota, a choice that could leave him in place about a year, or longer, depending on which party wins control of the White House in November.
Paulose will be stepping down on Sunday, according to Justice Department officials.
Magill, 48, also has been under consideration by Gov. Tim Pawlenty to become a Hennepin County District judge. Magill's new appointment appears to foreclose a judgeship, at least in the near-term.
A trusted insider with 17 years in the office, Magill agreed last year to step up as first assistant U.S. attorney, filling one of three vacancies created by a round of resignations prompted by management disputes with Paulose.
When Paulose announced in November that she would depart, Magill was widely seen as a likely successor, given his senior position in the office, his experience and his respect among professional colleagues.
His appointment by the Justice Department won the backing of both Minnesota U.S. senators: Norm Coleman, a Republican, and Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat.
"From the outset, I maintained it was imperative to appoint someone from within the office who could step in and provide the necessary leadership and management skills," Coleman said.
Klobuchar said she has worked well with Magill, both in private practice and when she was Hennepin County attorney. "He is a true professional, and a great choice to lead this office," she said.
Klobuchar said she also has pressed Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to back Magill for a permanent posting as U.S. attorney, which would require a separate nomination by the White House. "I told him we'd like to move quickly," she said.
But some legal analysts say a lame-duck president is unlikely to nominate a new U.S. attorney, if for no other reason than that the Senate confirmation process could stretch over much of the remainder of the Bush presidency.
Prospects for confirming a permanent U.S. attorney could also be clouded by election-year politics, with many presidential nominations at a standstill in the Senate. There are currently 23 acting or interim U.S. attorneys out of 93 districts across the nation.
By law, Magill can serve as acting U.S. attorney for 210 days, or seven months. If he is not nominated by then, the Justice Department can appoint him on an interim basis for another 120 days. After that, the district court may appoint a U.S. attorney.
Magill, of St. Louis Park, has been an assistant U.S. attorney since 1990, serving as the economic-crimes chief from 1998 to June 2007. Previously, he was a civil-litigation attorney with the Dorsey and Whitney law firm in Minneapolis. He graduated from the Georgetown University Law Center in 1985.
Magill will take over a U.S. attorney's office that has been rocked by discord in the 18 months since Paulose was appointed to replace Tom Heffelfinger, who resigned in February 2006. For the past year, congressional committees have been investigating whether the Justice Department was planning to fire Heffelfinger for political reasons. Though Heffelfinger has said repeatedly that he left on his own initiative, his name turned up on two lists of U.S. attorneys targeted for dismissal.
At the same time, Paulose came under criticism from Democrats and others after three top supervisors resigned, citing management problems.
Heffelfinger, a Republican, as well as ex-U.S. Attorney David Lillehaug, a Democrat, both say Magill is just the person to pick up the pieces.
"He's an excellent appointment," Heffelfinger said. "He has the intellectual ability, the decisiveness and the people skills to perform the job extremely well."
Lillehaug called him "a very strong choice at just the right time. ... This is a very non-political appointment, which is exactly what the office needs for the next year."
Kevin Diaz 202-408-2753