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Judge hits politics in choice of marshals

A rare rebuke from US bench

A federal judge in Boston has blasted the US Marshals Service as a "second rate" agency because it is headed by a patronage appointee, and called on Congress to "professionalize" the law enforcement agency.

Judge William G. Young , in an unusual addendum to a ruling in an employment discrimination case last week, went out of his way to criticize the way marshals are appointed throughout the country.

The appointees "are all direct political patronage appointments. These are not executive department policy-making positions; they are vital law enforcement positions," Young wrote.

"Surely here in America direct command of law enforcement officers in harm's way could never be entrusted to political patronage appointees," he wrote. "How smug we are -- and how wrong."

Young's remarks were striking, in part because federal judges work closely with the marshals, who are responsible for securing courthouses, protecting judges, juries, witnesses, and other court officials. They also play a role in capturing fugitives and transporting prisoners.

Young wrote that it was unimaginable that another federal law enforcement agency, such as the FBI or the Drug Enforcement Agency, would put a political appointee in charge of a regional office. He said Congress has professionalized those agencies.

"Until Congress does the same for the Marshals Service, it will always be considered a second rate political agency in the eyes of true professionals," Young wrote.

Traditionally, the marshal's job has gone to a prominent political figure from the same political party of the president in office. The White House has usually allowed local political figures in the 94 marshal districts to reach a consensus on a candidate for the job.

Reed Hillman , last year's unsuccessful Republican candidate for lieutenant governor and a former State Police commander, is expected to be nominated for the presidential appointment.

In a story published Monday, the Globe quoted two unnamed Massachusetts Republican officials who said that the White House has decided to give Hillman the job.

If President Bush nominates him, Hillman may face opposition in the Senate, which must confirm presidential nominations.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy has long advocated for professionalizing the Marshals Service, and last year added a provision to the Patriot Act establishing criteria for marshals, including four years of "command-level law enforcement management duties" and experience in courts or protecting court personnel.

Ask whether Kennedy intended to try to block Hillman's appointment, Melissa Wagoner , Kennedy's spokeswoman, pointed out that the White House has not submitted a nomination to the Senate.

Bush's previous appointee for US marshal in Boston was Anthony Dichio, a former state trooper later dismissed by the president for neglect of duty. Former governor Paul Cellucci, a Republican like Bush, nominated Dichio, who had spent several years at Cellucci's side as part of a State Police detail assigned to drive the governor to appointments and provide security for him.

Bush dismissed Dichio in 2005, after two Globe reporters documented Dichio's lax work habits and use of his government-owned vehicle for personal errands. An investigation by the US Justice Department, prompted by the Globe report, confirmed the newspaper's findings.

Dichio was named to the $130,000-a-year job over objections from the state's two US senators and from nine of its 10 House members, all of them Democrats. Critics said Dicho lacked experience in antiterrorism and management. The Marshals Service in Massachusetts includes a staff of about 120.

Nancy McGillivray, who served as marshal from 1994 to 2002, was an anomaly in the Marshals Service because she rose through the agency's ranks to get the top job. Yesterday, she echoed Young's assessment.

"You don't have the luxury of a learning curve as marshal," McGillivray said yesterday. "It's a demanding, professional law enforcement job."

Young's comments on the Marshals Service came at the end of a ruling in which he denied the claims of a deputy marshal who alleged that Dichio passed her over for a promotion due to gender bias.

In his ruling, Young wrote that Dichio's actions were a result of personal hostility toward the deputy marshal, not gender discrimination.

Dichio could not be reached for comment last night.

Sean P. Murphy can be reached at smurphy@globe.com.

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