Wednesday, June 17, 2009 | The U.S. attorney selection committee, which had wrapped up interviews weeks ago and recommended the nomination of prominent San Diego defense lawyer Jerry Coughlan, apparently has run into a political roadblock.
Sources close to the process said Sen. Barbara Boxer’s office hesitated at the recommendation of Coughlan because of concerns that his selection could spark resignations within the U.S. Attorney’s office. Some senior U.S. attorneys and defense lawyers previously described Coughlan in a voiceofsandiego.org story as “arrogant” and “divisive.” The prosecutors asked not to be identified because the subject is sensitive.
As a result, the committee interviewed another candidate, Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy, on June 10, the sources said. Duffy, deputy chief of the general crimes section and a former member of the narcotics unit, has successfully prosecuted about 20 leaders of the much-feared Arellano Félix drug cartel.
Coughlan remains the committee’s first choice, but it’s unclear which name or names will be submitted in the wake of Duffy’s interview, the sources said. The senator will decide who will be offered to President Obama for nomination, and the nominee must be confirmed by the Senate. At this pace, it’s unlikely a new U.S. attorney would be in office before late in the year.
Prior to Duffy, the committee interviewed only three of about nine applicants, including Coughlan and two in-house candidates: Tim Coughlin, head of the U.S. attorney’s drug unit, and First Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin J. Kelly, who is second-in-command. The number of applicants is an estimate because the process is secret.
While searching for the right nominee, the committee signaled it was not satisfied with the pool of applicants by reaching out to at least three lawyers, asking them to apply for the position. White-collar defense attorney Michael Attanasio and Superior Court Judges Laura J. Birkmeyer and Cynthia A. Bashant apparently turned down the request, the sources said.