Pubdate: Thu, 30 Jul 2015
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 2015 San Jose Mercury News
Author: Howard Mintz


Yee Indictment, PG&E Charges Among Key Cases

U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag is stepping down as the Bay Area's top 
federal law enforcement official, ending a five-year tenure that has 
included the prosecution of state Sen. Leland Yee and cases against 
corporate powers such as FedEx and PG&E.

Haag announced the decision at a meeting with staff on Wednesday 
after notifying U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch earlier in the 
week. Haag's resignation takes effect on Sept. 1.

A 2010 appointee of President Barack Obama, the 53-year-old Haag 
decided to leave before the next presidential election, joining a 
growing number of the nation's 93 U.S. attorneys who have taken 
similar steps over the past year.

"The reality is, at some point, the job ends, and I feel it's the 
right time," Haag said. "The time to step down is when the end is in 
sight and things are going well. We're in that window of time."

Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Stretch will serve as acting U.S. 
attorney, most likely until after the 2016 election, when the next 
president will nominate a permanent replacement. Haag came to the job 
as an influential Bay Area Democrat, white-collar defense lawyer and 
former federal prosecutor.

Haag has already made it known she favors Stretch getting the nod 
from the next president, although he is certain to face stiff 
competition for a job considered a political plum.

As San Francisco U.S. attorney, Haag's office oversees U.S. Justice 
Department prosecution of federal crimes from Monterey to the Oregon 
border, with the epicenter of the work focusing on the Bay Area, 
including high-tech cases in Silicon Valley, major gang prosecutions 
in San Francisco and Oakland, and offenses ranging from gun 
trafficking to child porn.

For the most part, Haag, unanimously confirmed by the Senate in 
August 2010, has had a tenure marked by a handful of 
headline-grabbing cases and unusual stability in an office with an 
often bumpy history.

Her signature cases include last year's political corruption 
indictment of Yee, who recently pleaded guilty to racketeering 
charges; criminal charges, including obstruction of justice charges, 
against PG&E in connection with the fatal 2010 San Bruno pipeline 
blast; and an indictment against FedEx last year for allegedly 
shipping illegal prescription drugs via online pharmacies.

Haag has taken heat for several developments, notably her crackdown 
on some Northern California medical marijuana dispensaries she argued 
were simply fronts for illegal pot distributors or in areas, such as 
near schools or parks, where they should be barred from operation.

Medical marijuana advocates were particularly critical of Haag's move 
to shutter the Harborside Health Center in Oakland, the nation's 
largest medical pot dispensary, as well as its satellite facility in 
San Jose. Even a federal appeals court, which is weighing a challenge 
to Haag's legal attack, questioned why the office was moving ahead 
with the case.

Haag describes the criticism as "frustrating," saying marijuana cases 
represented a fraction of the office's work and were in response to 
community concerns about the issue.

For Haag, the only other murmurs in the legal community have centered 
on the overall number of cases filed by her office, which have 
steadily declined since she took over from former U.S. Attorney 
Joseph Russoniello, according to annual statistical reports.

But Haag said that is simply a reflection of the administration's 
emphasis on complex, major investigations instead of hiking 
statistics with routine drug and gun cases.

"The numbers are absolutely irrelevant," she said.

In fact, Haag has overseen a string of high-profile indictments 
considered important on issues such as economic espionage, including 
the recent indictment of six Chinese citizens on charges of stealing 
tech secrets for a Chinese university.

Local federal prosecutors also recently charged two federal agents 
for stealing bitcoins during the government's nationwide Silk Road 
drug investigation, both of whom have pleaded guilty. Among other 
highprofile cases, Haag's lawyers also shuttered the notorious online 
prostitution site htttp:// and convicted its Bay Area ringleader.

While Haag is hoping Stretch, an office veteran who formerly headed 
the criminal division, keeps the job, much will depend on politics 
after the next election. If a Republican wins, Stretch, a Democrat, 
most likely will be bumped from office, along with other Democratic 
U.S. attorneys around the country.

And if a Democrat keeps the White House, Stretch is expected to face 
competition from other Bay Area lawyers likely to seek the job. 
California's two senators typically are influential in picking U.S. 
attorneys, making recommendations to the White House. Sen. Barbara 
Boxer backed Haag for the job five years ago.

Meanwhile, Haag, who worked for a major law firm before becoming U.S. 
attorney, said she plans to take her time making her next career 
step, in the meantime turning to tasks such as readying her two sons 
for college applications.

"I hope I had the effect of enhancing the reputation of the office," 
Haag said. "I feel we've accomplished most of our goals."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom