PITTSBURGH—In the wake of yet another scandal, Mary Beth Buchanan, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, today gave her "two weeks notice" that she will resign from her job effective Nov. 16.
Buchanan, who was appointed to her position shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, brought the first federal obscenity case in more than a decade when she indicted Extreme Associates owners Rob Black and Lizzy Borden on April 8, 2003 for interstate transportation of obscene material and posting obscene material to a website. Buchanan followed up that "coup" by indicting agoraphobic invalid Karen Fletcher on Sept. 26, 2006 for having posted allegedly obscene stories to her website, which at its height had just 29 subscribers. In the end, Black, Borden and Fletcher all pled guilty. Black and Borden each received sentences of one year and one day in prison, while Fletcher, because of her fear of leaving her home, was sentenced to six months home detention and five years of probation.
As one of the more conservative U.S. Attorneys (USAs), Buchanan was one of the original "loyal Bushies," and in June of 2004, she was rewarded by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft with the post of Director of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys at the Department of Justice, which she performed in addition to her USA duties. As Director of the Executive Office, Buchanan provided administrative support to the 94 United States Attorneys' offices across the country, and also served as a liaison between the U.S. Attorneys and other federal agencies and Department of Justice components. However, charges later surfaced that Buchanan had been one of the Bush administration officials to recommend to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' assistant Kyle Sampson which USAs would be fired in order that they could be replaced by even more conservative prosecutors.
Also, in that position, Buchanan hired Regent University Law School grad Monica Goodling as her assistant. It was Goodling, in a later position as the Attorney General's White House liaison, who proceeded to fill staff positions at the Justice Department with conservatives—no Democrats needed even to apply—and blocked the appointment of a federal prosecutor based on rumors that the woman was a lesbian.
As the USA for Western Pennsylvania, Buchanan was also responsible for the 2003 prosecution of comedian Tommy Chong for having financed his son's company, Chong Glass/Nice Dreams, which sold bongs and other "drug paraphernalia" over the internet. Chong eventually pled guilty and spent nine months in federal prison—and it only cost taxpayers a little over $12 million to do it!
But perhaps Buchanan's biggest blunder was her attempt to prosecute popular Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril H. Wecht, a prominent Democrat, for allegedly using his staff and the resources of the Coroner's Office to run personal errands for him, and to provide funds and services for his private pathology practice. Wecht's first trial ended in a hung jury, and after a subsequent ruling suppressing some of the evidence Buchanan's office wished to use against Wecht, she finally dropped the case in May, 2009.
According to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Wecht's attorney Jerry McDevitt charged that Buchanan "brought the taint of politics to the U.S. Attorney's position," stating, "I think her tenure has stripped that office of its reputation... I don't wish her well."
The latest controversy to dog Buchanan's career was the allegation, made public on Oct. 21, by federal public defender Lisa Freedland, that prosecutors in Buchanan's office had improperly received transcripts of phone calls between defendants housed at the Allegheny County Jail and their attorneys, and had failed to report such receipt to either to their supervisors or to the defenders office, and had also failed to notify jail officials to stop monitoring attorney/client phone calls. Even though Buchanan was aware of the improper transcripts, she did nothing to prevent future intrusions, claiming that Freedland should first have called her personally with an official notification of the snafu.
It has been rumored that Buchanan will run for Pennsylvania's 4th Congressional District U.S. House seat currently held by Democratic Rep. Jason Altmire.
"She's in the exploratory phase right now. It will take at least a million dollars to run, so that’s a big consideration," Allegheny County Republican Party chairman Jim Roddey told The Post-Gazette. "[Ms. Buchanan has] certainly got the name recognition, and I think a woman could do well in that district."