For the second time in a year, the federal prosecutor’s office for the Middle District of Tennessee could be left without a clear leader for weeks or even months if the confirmation of Ed Yarbrough does not immediately follow the departure of U.S. Attorney Craig Morford.
According to sources familiar with both processes, timing is likely to be problematic and create a vacant U.S. Attorney’s post in Nashville, if only for the short-term.
Morford, who has served as Nashville’s interim U.S. Attorney since October, last week received news of his appointment to the position of acting Deputy Attorney General of the United States — the No. 2 position at the U.S. Justice Department.
Neither Morford nor the Justice Department has given any word on when his appointment will commence, but sources said Monday that Morford was expected to be in Washington, D.C. for the majority of the week gearing up for his new assignment.
While President George W. Bush’s official nomination of Yarbrough came before news of Morford’s promotion, Yarbrough has to jump through significantly more hoops than Morford — namely, his nomination has to be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee and then confirmed by the entire Senate, either by a vote or an agreement.
Morford, on the other hand, is expected to serve as acting Deputy Attorney General — without Senate approval — until such time as his name or the name of another is formally submitted to the Senate as an official nomination for that post.
Technically, Bush could nominate Yarbrough to the office of U.S. Attorney by way of recess appointment — a move he has used in the past with controversial nominations to other federal offices — when the Senate goes on recess in August.
However, that is a scenario at least one official wants to avoid.
Sen. Lamar Alexander’s office Monday night said the senator — who had just returned to D.C. — was planning on urging the Judiciary Committee’s leadership to expedite Yarbrough’s confirmation, given the precarious situation facing the Nashville prosecutor’s office.
Before Morford was appointed as the interim U.S. Attorney for Nashville, the office was temporarily without a clear leader after U.S. Attorney Jim Vines abruptly stepped down.
But Lee Pitts, Sen. Alexander’s spokesman, said Alexander spoke personally with Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. and Ranking Member Sen. Arlen Spector, R, Pa., late Monday and briefed both on the situation facing the Middle District’s prosecutor’s office.
“We don’t have a timetable or a specific date,” Pitts said yesterday. “But Sen. Alexander is hoping that Ed Yarbrough’s confirmation can be expedited and he will be speaking with Chairman Leahy and Sen. Spector regarding expediting his confirmation since Nashville will be without a permanent U.S. Attorney.”
Staff at the Senate Judiciary Committee could not immediately be reached for information on when Yarbrough’s nomination was likely to be considered.
While a delay in Yarbrough’s confirmation could spell difficulty for the federal prosecutor’s office in Nashville, it would give Yarbrough more time to try and settle the numerous local criminal cases he is currently handling, including the felony prescription drug fraud case of Williamson County Sheriff Ricky Headley.
Either way, Yarbrough said the lion’s share of his work will be distributed among the other Hollins, Wagster, Yarbrough, Weatherly and Raybin, P.C. partners.
“In general, any matter that is pending that cannot be resolved before I depart this law firm will most likely be handled by other partners in the firm,” Yarbrough said Monday. “We have four partners who have 20 years or more experience in criminal court, so it’s not something that will be difficult to do.”