A federal prosecutor in Baltimore who is moving to a job at the Justice Department sharply criticized Maryland U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio in a letter to him this month, questioning his management style, his agenda and several of his recent actions.
"You have said your goals include creating a 'premier law firm,' but many excellent career prosecutors have left after unpleasantness that seems to arise from honest disagreements with you," Lisa M. Griffin wrote in an Aug. 6 letter to DiBiagio announcing her departure as an assistant U.S. attorney.
"I fear that 'premier' is really an effort to achieve a dangerous homogeneity of thought," Griffin said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained yesterday by The Washington Post. "Good lawyers no longer speak up for fear of having their reputations tarnished. I know I have often felt that way myself."
Griffin's letter, an unusual rebuke of a U.S. attorney by one of his subordinates, was widely circulated in DiBiagio's office in the past week. She announced her departure, effective Aug. 27, and said she was joining Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility, which investigates allegations of misconduct by federal prosecutors.
DiBiagio, who was appointed Maryland's top federal prosecutor by President Bush in 2001, declined to be interviewed about the letter yesterday. His spokeswoman, Vickie E. LeDuc, said DiBiagio called a meeting of his staff of 70 lawyers Aug. 6 to review Griffin's complaints.
At the meeting, Griffin "expressed her regret for sending the letter" and her appreciation of DiBiagio's "commitment to address any and all concerns raised by the assistants in the office," LeDuc said. She said DiBiagio's supervisory staff reviewed Griffin's letter and found it had "no merit."
Griffin, who did not respond to phone messages seeking comment on the letter, wrote that she was leaving partly because she could no longer tolerate DiBiagio's "aggressive management style."
She complained about the departures "on less than cordial terms" of several experienced prosecutors. "Others who are still here have been treated with disrespect and incivility," she wrote.
In her new job, Griffin wrote, she will deal with "prosecutorial misconduct and the abuse of power."
"These issues have been uppermost in my mind these past two years," wrote Griffin, an 18-year veteran of the Maryland office.
In a prepared statement, DiBiagio said there have been "growing pains" in the office because it is "doing things that we haven't done in years." He added, "Five attorneys leaving in three years is well below the normal attrition rate."
In her letter, Griffin also touched on Jonathan P. Luna, a federal prosecutor who was found dead in a Pennsylvania creek late last year, drowned and suffering from numerous stab wounds, most of them superficial.
Luna had been struggling at the office in the months preceding his death, and several friends and prosecutors have said that he worried he could be fired. Law enforcement officials have said that Luna may have committed suicide or killed himself accidentally. They said he may have been trying to garner sympathy by making it appear that he had been attacked.
After Luna's death, DiBiagio told reporters that Luna was a good prosecutor and not in jeopardy of losing his job. Griffin disputed that in her letter. "Jonathan is also gone after much heartache and distress over your style," she wrote. "I am deeply embarrassed to hear that you led the press to believe that Jonathan was not in jeopardy of losing his job. That wasn't so."
She also said she was upset when DiBiagio recently lashed out at one of his prosecutors, Jefferson Gray, apparently at a meeting. She wrote that she was "embarrassed to hear" that DiBiagio had used crude and aggressive language.
In his statement, DiBiagio referred to the episode: "There was an unfortunate incident in which I lost my temper," he said. "I quickly apologized. The apology was accepted and we both moved on."
Last month, DiBiagio drew a rare rebuke from Justice officials after he urged his prosecutors in writing to produce three "front-page" indictments in public corruption and white-collar cases. Justice officials said DiBiagio must submit all potential public corruption indictments to them for review.
Saying DiBiagio had caused "public humiliation of our office by your ill-advised agenda and e-mails," Griffin added: "Maybe you should even consider an apology."