Friday, August 21, 2009

What's Holding Up Holder in Firing Bushevik U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan?

Ask Dr. Cyril Wecht, a Partisan Victim

by Meg White

There is no doubt in my mind that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is a busy guy. His plate overflows with thorny questions over detainees, the Defense of Marriage Act, trafficking, discrimination, corruption and dozens of other issues spanning the capital, country and globe.

That said, there is some wisdom to cleaning one's own house before taking on the neighborhood. In that vein, Holder has no excuse for failing to have requested the resignation of U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania Mary Beth Buchanan. Nor, for that matter, having taken this long to respond to an ethics complaint filed by forensic pathologist and Buchanan victim Cyril Wecht.

Wecht is the former coroner and medical examiner of Allegheny County, PA, and a doctor and lawyer who has lent his expert opinion to autopsies ranging from John F. Kennedy to JonBenet Ramsey. An outspoken Democrat in Pennsylvania, he quickly earned the ire of the FBI and local law enforcement by investigating deaths occurring in police custody.

Buchanan's case against Wecht was politically-motivated from the very beginning. The raid that initiated the case was eventually declared unconstitutional. The mistrial's aftermath also reeked of federal folly, with the FBI accused of contacting jurors after the trial to find out how deliberations went, in preparation for a retrial.

Furthermore, around half of the original 84 charges were dropped before the trial even opened. Some of the more fantastic claims -- such as Wecht trading cadavers in exchange for lab space rental -- were never substantiated, with supposed witnesses never having been even interviewed by the prosecution. As we reported earlier this year:

Buchanan's first attempt to prosecute Wecht ended last year with a hung jury, after which the judge on the case was ordered replaced. In May 2009, the new retrial judge threw out the bulk of Buchanan's evidence -- evidence that had been swept up in "a spectacular raid" four years earlier, as the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported. To appeal the judge's ruling against her evidence, Buchanan would have needed approval from Obama Administration Solicitor General Elena Kagan.

Clearly upset at the verdict, Buchanan held a press conference in which she insisted Wecht was indeed guilty, and that if she had another chance she'd pursue him all over again.

Countless people, from the jurors on Wecht's case to conservative lawyers and other prominent Pennsylvanians to members of Congress have said the charges were unfounded and blatantly partisan. The former attorney general under President Reagan, Dick Thornburgh (who represented Wecht) told Congress that Wecht "would qualify as an ideal target for a Republican U.S. attorney trying to curry favor with a department which demonstrated that if you play by its rules, you will advance."

Now Thornburgh is advocating for an investigation of Buchanan's actions, having signed on to Wecht's formal complaint to Holder. In fact, Wecht said that some four weeks ago, Thornburgh ran into the current attorney General at a conference and Holder told him the department is following through on it.

Wecht told me in a phone interview Wednesday that he has no idea what the hold-up is, since most everything he's accused B

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