Nearly two months ago, some federal judges were so concerned about the quality of cases and "rock-bottom" morale in the U.S. Attorney's Office in Philadelphia that the Department of Justice "was made aware of what was going on."
That's what a prominent member of the criminal-justice system said yesterday.
Thus began a chain of events resulting in the removal of interim U.S. Attorney Laurie Magid and yesterday's departure of Linda Dale Hoffa, chief of the criminal division, ending what some insiders said were several years of "micromanaging" and bad management.
Yesterday, interim U.S. Attorney Michael Levy announced a new management lineup that was being heralded inside the office and by former insiders as consisting of bright, highly respected, nonpolitical, consummate professionals.
"We're in ecstasy," said one staffer, who declined to be identified.
Hoffa was named by the Department of Justice to serve in Washington on a detail with the U.S. Senate Judiciary subcommittee on crime and drugs under Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., subcommittee chairman.
"It's an incredible honor," said Hoffa, who served 25 years in the U.S. Attorney's Office. "I love this office and am sad to leave.
"It's an opportunity I wanted . . . to work on [Capitol] Hill," she added.
Effective Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Schenck takes over Hoffa's job as chief of the criminal division.
Recently, 40 prosecutors from other U.S. attorney offices were here to conduct a routine evaluation of the Philadelphia office.
In an exit briefing, they were "significantly critical" of management but "congratulated the line staff and were rather effusive of their work," said a meeting attendee.
Before the evaluation, a questionnaire was sent to prosecutors and the results were "scathing" of Magid and Hoffa, the criminal-justice official said.
Judges were also interviewed by the outside evaluators.
"This office had such a great reputation," that some judges "were very concerned they were not getting a good product," the official said. Experienced prosecutors were leaving and inexperienced ones were hired.
At least one view was that Magid "allowed Hoffa to run wild," the official said.
Some judges were also worried that the next U.S. attorney would be faced with an office operating at a lower level, the official added.
"No judges ever said anything like that to me," Hoffa said, ticking off several people who had high regard for her work. She said that evaluators found "[her office] had great cases and were doing great work."
She denied receiving a "scathing" evaluation by staffers, which number about 100 attorneys. "When you're the boss, not everyone likes you."
After the exit briefing, Hoffa sought out staffers to improve their relationships.
"Some messages are misunderstood," she said. "That's why I talked to everyone."
In another matter, Hoffa and another manager were described as not credible in a hearing about an employee who tried to get his job back.
"I testified truthfully about what I remembered," Hoffa said.
Some judges were also concerned about Magid allegedly soliciting staff to attend political fundraisers at her house, the criminal-justice official said.
About 20 prosecutors attended the $250-a-person dinner hosted by Magid's husband, prominent caterer Jeffrey Miller. One irate judge vowed that he would throw out of his courtroom any prosecutor who bought a ticket, the official said.
Magid declined to comment.
Since he took over, Levy has tried to handle the transfer in a delicate, even-handed way, staffers say.
He has told confidantes that he wants to set a "positive tone and healing for the office."
Hoffa "did a great job. She handled a lot of really good cases and did a lot of really good work," Levy said.
"She'll be an asset to the department [of Justice] and to the Senate," he added.
Other changes in the U.S. Attorney's office included:
Former chief of the civil division, Virginia Gibson will serve as Levy's First Assistant. Gibson's deputy in the civil division, Margaret Hutchinson, takes over her boss's former job.
Deputy chief of the criminal division Richard Zack requested to replace Schenck as head of commercial and consumer fraud.
Levy named M. Taylor Aspinwall as deputy chief of the criminal division. Taking Aspinwall's place as deputy of violent crime and the terrorism unit is assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen A. Miller.