Gerald Gallinghouse, U.S. attorney for eastern Louisiana, is something of a hero to a lot of the citizens in his scandal-riddled district.
To others, like the American Bar Association members who opposed his nomination for a federal judgeship in 1975, Gallinghouse is a bit too tough.
Gallinghouse and his staff of 23 gained national prominence for their work - 71 convictions - in last year's grain scandal investigations. Before that were the 52 convictions for embezzlement, fraud, and related crimes in a long-shoremen's pension fund scandal. Since then, there have been 28 conviction as a result of investigations into vote fraud in the First Congressional District of Louisiana.
One of those vote-fraud convictions was former Rep, Richard Tonry, who represented the First Congressional District until he left office, Tonry was indicted. He later pleaded guilty to campaign finance violation charges: in exchange, Gallinghouse agreed to drop other charges.
Now Gallinghouse and his staff are onto something elses: an intensive investigation of political corruption and white-collar crime in Jefferson Parish, a suburb of New Orleans.
"It's the biggest thing since Huey Long," says one local citizen.
Gallinghouse says he can't say more, since the investigation is pending. In dictments, however, are beginning to dribble out. Recently two Jefferson PParish professionals pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to overcharge the parish on the purchase of four water pumps.
At the same time, however, Gallinghouse himself, because he is a Republican, may be on his way out. Already his staff is beginning to trickle away.
Seven of his assistants have already quit in anticipation of the termination of the 57-year-old Gallinghouse's 7 1/2 year stint as U.S. attorney.
And an FBI check and a half-hour audience with Attorney General Griffin B. Bell last month may indicate that George W. Reese, a 53-year-old New Orleans attorney, is close to being nominated for the post Gallinghouse now holds.
U.S. attorneys are presidential appointees whose four-year terms are likely to coincide with changes in the administration - when the Republicans leave the White House, Republican appointees return to private life, too.
Reese, who is endorsed by both of Louisiana's Democratic senators, is a friend of Sen. J. Bennett Johnston and was Johnston's campaign chairman in New Orleans in 1972.
The process of appointments is simple, traditional, and political.
Reese readily acknowledges that "It wasn't a question of whether a Democrat (would replace Gallinghouse), but rather which Democrat it would be."
So far so good.But this is Louisiana, and even a simple political appointment process begins to read like a chapter of All the King's Men.
Gallinghouse, who is losing his job in part because he is a Republican, is also a former Democratic National Committeeman.
Reese, who is up for the job in part because of his Democratic ties, is a former Republican National Committeeman who says the first questions the got about his eligibility for the post concerned his support - thought by some sources to nonexistent - of Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign last year.
Add to this the fact that Bell and Carter have both been vociferous about depoliticizing the appointments of public officials, particularly in the judiciary.
Then there's the matter of the investigation in Jefferson Parish. Many locals are asking privately whether Gallinghouse is being hurried out because of it, and publicly whether the investigation can continue unimpeded if Gallinghouse is replaced.
Continuing the investigation "is an impossiblity," says Aaron Kohn, director of the New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission and a leader in attempts to let Gallinghouse keep his job.
"The best interest of the public is not to make a change now," adds Kohn."The public is being cheated out of continuity and expertise developed with Gallinghouse."
Nothing against Reese, Kohn cautions.
"Some fine, young, vigorous, intelligent guys in the U.S. attorney's office who know Reese and don't dislike him as an individual say they just don't feel the momentum will continue," says Kohn.
One of those vigorous young prosecutors is Cornelius Heusel, named outstanding assistant U.S. attorney in the nation by the Justice Department last year for his work in the grain investigations.
Heusel was first assistant to Gallingshouse until recently, when he joined a New Orleans labor law firm.
"It's not necessarily George Reese's fault," Heusel says."No matter what the dedication of the people coming in, you lose expertise and experience... It literally took us years to develop techniques and rapport."
"But from what I've heard of Reese, the man's independent enough that he might do a good job."
A spokesman for Sen. Johnston. Reese's main supporter, says, "I certainly don't think Reese would stop the Jefferson Parish investigations or anything like that."
The spokesman attributes any controversy over Reese's' nomination to "unfortunate Aiming. Reese's name came up in February, then the indictments began to surface."
"That's not true," says Kohn. "Planning for those investigations is long-term, and anyway, that isn't the point. The point is the partisan nature of the process."
Gallinghouse says, "Ican't be concerned with timing. I enforce the laws; that's my obligation."8
No one can accuse Gallinghouse of being tactful about the timing of his indictments. Three vote-fraud indictments were issued on June 24 - the day before the Democratic congressional primary in which ex-Rep. Tonry sought to begin to make his way back to Capitol Hill.
Tonry lost the race, and said Gallinghouse's timing was "an obvious attempt on the part of...a Republican to affect the outcome of a Democratic primary."
Reese says he's willing to take a salary cut from his $100,000-a-year law practice to the U.S. attorney's annual salary of $43,500 because, "Frankly, it's little bit of try my hand at something new with the skills I have."
"The client is always the U.S. government in that office," says Reese. "I don't foresee a big change if I were to be appointed."
Last month Reese, bringing his wife and children with him, paid a visit to Johnston's office in Washington.
"What did we talk about?" says Reese." I guess we talked about what ever politicians talk about - the senator took us up to the gallery when he went to vote. The next day, after my talk with the Attorney General, he called up to ask how it went."
Reese did not comment on his disscussion with Bell, saying, "It's not prejudice but taste or style that causes me to keep quiet on this. It's their problem not mine, now. I've had an interview for a job, that's all."
Johnston had other Capitol Hillvisitors last month. Douglas Allen, president of Jefferson Parsish, and parish District Attorney John Mamoulides had lunch with the senator.
Allen, apparently still smarting from local media reports that hinted his Washington trip was an attempt to push Reese in and Gallinghouse out, would not comment. He said only, "Our purpose was not solely on Reese's behalf."
Mamoulides, who has been rumored by one source to be "close to, though uninvolved with" some behing-the-scanes parish powers, says either man is fine with him.
"I've had an excellent working relationship with Gerald Gallinghouse. I don't want to see Mr. Gallinghouse expeditiously replaced until his investigation is finished," he said.
Asked whether his visit to Washington might be construed as part of a "Democratic cover-up" to stop the Jefferson parish investigation, Mamoulides said no.
"They're blowing it all out of proportion. The Press has made a lot of nothing, all for for the sake of stirring up news," he added.
"I don't think there's any doubt that the current investigation is an impetus to moves to replace Gallinghouse," says Cornelius Heusel, "I wouldn't say that's Johnston's motive but maybe the motives of some of those talking to him."
"Well," says Gallinghouse, summing up. "I certainly haven't endeared myself to some of the law firms around here. But the U.S. attorney who's active and aggressive is going to be a lightning rod."