Legal Pad noticed a small detail in yesterday’s en banc smackdown delivered to the government by the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals: When the epic steroids case was before the three judge panel, the Justice Department chose Northern District federal prosecutor Erika Frick to make the argument. She won. But when it hit the en banc court, the feds instead went with assistant U.S. Attorney J. Douglas Wilson.
On one level, this personnel choice shouldn’t be too surprising: Wilson is a longtime appellate hand, and he has worked the steroids case closely (including as a member of the Barry Bonds trial team). However, Wilson is married to Barbara Valliere, currently the appellate chief in the Northern District U.S. Attorney’s Office. Valliere supervises Frick.
Domestic discord ahead? You gotta wonder ...
We couldn’t help but wonder what kind of management challenge this creates for the DOJ powers on Golden Gate Avenue. After all, if Legal Pad’s editor had a hand in reassigning one of our biggest stories to her husband — after we’d been doing a good job — we’d be snarling. Frick didn’t return our call, which either means she’s much more forgiving than us, or is wary of the office’s general ban on prosecutors talking to the press. Valliere didn’t respond to a message, either.
For his part, U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello called Frick a “great lawyer, who does a great job.” The decision to use Wilson was made by consensus because of his history as an appellate advocate, Russoniello said, and Valliere supported the move. Prosecutors always live with the possibility of having big cases appropriated, he added.
“There’s always the possibility that somebody from Washington comes out to take it,” he said.
In general, the U.S. attorney said, married couples who work together in the office are kept out of each other’s chain of command, both to make sure they are properly managed and to avoid bad feelings among their coworkers. Wilson oversaw the antiterrorism unit before taking his current post in Washington, D.C., earlier this year, as a staffer on the task force reviewing detainee procedures.
— Dan Levine