U.S. Attorney Denies Leaving under a Cloud Recent Cases Alleged Misconduct

Article excerpt

Byline: Jim Schoettler, Times-Union staff writer

Donna Bucella said she woke up in Tampa yesterday morning, unfolded her newspaper and cringed at the headline, "U.S. Attorney Bucella Quits."

A short time later, Bucella, who's been the top federal prosecutor for the past 18 months in a 35-county district that stretches from Jacksonville to Naples, got a phone call from her father. He also commented on a news headline he'd seen.

"My Dad goes, 'So, Bucella quits under fire,' " said Bucella, 44. "I went, 'What?' "

Bucella told the Times-Union yesterday that no controversy would chase her away, including two cases of allegations of prosecutorial misconduct cited in news stories of her resignation from the Middle District of Florida.

Instead, she said the writing has been on the wall since she visited her superiors at the U.S. Department of Justice in late February. That's when she said she learned President Bush intended to carry on a tradition of new presidents by replacing the 93 U.S. attorneys who serve at the chief executive's pleasure. She joins more than a third of the U.S. attorneys that have resigned since Bush won the presidency.

"I'm not a quitter. It has nothing to do with what's going on in the office," said Bucella, whose office includes about 240 attorneys and staff. "The department said we're going to have an orderly transition and I know what that means. A new administration wants to come in and surround themselves with their team. This is political reality."

In early March, Bucella said she told her superiors she would be resigning effective May 1 and she announced her decision publicly Friday. She said she plans to go into private practice after spending about 14 years in the U.S. attorney's office.

Bucella said her resignation had nothing to do with a recent case in which a panel of appeals judges cited an assistant U.S. attorney in her office for prosecutorial misconduct and overturned convictions in a seafood-selling scam case.

She also dismissed speculation that she's leaving because of the behavior of prosecutors in the case against Steve and Marlene Aisenberg, who were accused of lying to investigators in the disappearance of their infant daughter in Tampa. …