Attorney General Griffin B. Bell's decision to replace an aggressive Republican U.S. attorney who has gained key convictions of corrupt politicians here has touched off an unprecedented ground swell of protests from citizens, lawyers and some politicians.
Television and radio stations are publicizing White House telephone numbers for citizens to call to complain. A spokesman at the White House said more than 1,500 individuals called or telegraphed protests Monday and Tuesday.
"For a two-day period," this is second only to Bert Lance," said the spokesman Tuesday.
By today, the spokesman said a total of 2,100 complaints had been received.
A Justice Department spokesman said, "Every other call is about Marston."
That is David W. Marston, a former aide to Sen. Richard S. Schweiker (R-Pa.), who was named U.S. attorney for the 10-county Eastern District of Pennsylvania in 1976.
Traditionally, U.S. attorneys maintain low profiles as they act as the chief lawyer and prosecutor for the federal government in the various judicial districts. They are usually political patronage employees, and submit their resignations when the opposition party takes over in Washington.
But Marston has maintained a high media profile in his successful pursuit of corrupt politicians in the Philadelphia area. And, the quiet, stoop-shouldered 35-year-old Harvard graduate did not offer to resign when the Carter administration took office.
Nationally, Bell has replaced 72 of the 94 U.S. attorneys.
Over none of the replacements has there been any popular protests equaling the complaints about Marston's pending removal.
But in Philadelphia this week, after Bell confirmed that he was about to replace Marston:
an ad hec committee of lawyers from major law firms have appealed to President Carter to reverse Bell's decision. In fact, the committee issued a statement saying Bell's action "has the serious appearance of an act of injustice at the behest of two U.S. congressmen."
That was a reference to Pennsylvania Reps. Daniel J. Flood and Joshua Eilberg, both Democrats, who are reportedly involved in an investigation by Marston's office into financial irregularities in a construction project at Hahnemann Hospital in the Center City.
The Democratic congressional delegation from Philadelphia, led by Eilberg, has been lobbying vigorously for the replacement of Marston by a Democrat. Eilberg is the chairman of a key House Judiciary subcommittee.
One of five lawyers selected by Bell to advise him on a replacement for Marston has resigned from the task, saying, "I think Dave Marston has done a good job."
A local television station, KYW-TV, ran a poll and received 1,263 calls for his retention and 48 against the biggest margin on any ever for its polls.
A White House media liaison, Jim Perks, pleaded with KYW-TV to give the main White House switch-board number instead of the number for the White House comments office, where anyone can call and comment on an issue. Perks said the comments office was being swamped with calls and wasn't set up to handle the volume.
In his 18 months in office, Marston has successfully prosecuted two of Philadelphia's most powerful Democratic politicians on corruption charges: state Rep. Herbert Fineman, former speaker of the state House of Representatives, and state Sen. Henry J. (Buddy) Cianfrani, former chairman of the state Senate Appropriations Committee. Cianfrani's political power ranked nearly equal to that of Mayor Frank L. Rizzo.
Marston also won a conviction of a powerful suburban Republican, Theodore Rubino, former Chester County Republican chairman.
In addition, Marston is currently investigation allegations of police brutality, and he has won indictments of a Rizzo administration urban renewal director and the former campaign manager of Rizzo.
Rizzo, a Democrat, said, "I wouldn't know Marston if I fell over him," disallowing any interest in the map.
Marston said the public response to the effort by Bell to remove him shows that "the public in Pennsylvania is just fed up with crooked politicans being able to yank prosecutors out of office. Obviously, an attempt to remove a federal prosecutor has touched a raw public nerve."
Marston referred to tape-recorded conversations in his most recent corruption case against a Democratic politican in which the politican; a powerful Democrat, told a grand jury witness to stall an appearance before the panel last year.
"The whole defense strategy in that case was to remove me as the prosecutor," Marston said.
In all of the protests, complaints point out that Bell promised at his confirmation hearing in the Senate that he would "depoliticize" the Justice Department. Bell said at his confirmation hearing last Jan. 20:
"If there is a U.S. attorney who warrants retention on the merit system, as others who would be up for consideration, we would certainly give thought to retaining them. I happened to understand, with Gov. Carter, that if I am to be the Attorney General, we want to professionalize the Department of Justice. We want to depublicize it to the extent possible."
But Tuesday, Bell acknowledged that it was politics that would be Marston's undoing.
"We have two parties," he told reporters at the National Press Club tuesday. "The 'ins' are the Democrats. They can get in to complain easier than the other party can . . . I have nothing against Marston. He's a fine young man. But this is the political system in this country. We will change the U.S. attorney in Philadelphia when we find someone that is the equal of Mr. Marston in character, ability and integrity or better."