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Montgomery County Attorney Rodriguez headed to Justice Department

Montgomery County

Montgomery County's top lawyer, Leon Rodriguez, is stepping down to become chief of staff in the Justice Department's civil rights division.

Rodriguez, who has been Montgomery's county attorney since 2007, told his staff of the move Monday. He starts the job Jan. 19, at a time when the division is rebuilding after a mass exodus of attorneys during the Bush administration. Turnover was about 70 percent, he said.

"The civil rights division suffered quite a lot during the Bush years," Rodriguez said, citing reports of politicized hiring practices and allegations of declines in enforcement across the board. "The division is going to be given the authority to hire a large number of new lawyers."

He is being brought on by the new chief of the civil rights division, Tom Perez, a former Montgomery Council member who was also briefly Rodriguez's boss when the two men worked in the civil rights division's criminal section during the Clinton administration.

Assistant attorney general Perez "has a very ambitious agenda to restore" the division, and prepare for increased demands, including enforcement of a hate crimes law signed by President Obama, Rodriguez said. Rodriguez was part of Obama's transition team at Justice. He will also be a deputy assistant attorney general.

Rodriguez, 47, lives in Garrett Park and also served as first assistant U.S. Attorney in Pittsburg from 1999 to 2001. He will formally offer his letter of resignation from the county post in the coming days.

"This was the best professional experience I ever had. I loved this job," Rodriguez said. "The diversity of the work here is dazzling," he said, pointing to experience dealing with everything from child welfare and constitutional law to personnel questions and a deal for a county concern hall. "The other part of it, is I have great staff. These are some of greatest lawyers I've ever known. And I have a great client."

County Executive Isiah Leggett cited Rodriguez's expertise, work ethic and integrity. "Though I will miss his counsel, I know he will continue his dedicated service to
'justice for all' in his new post," said Leggett, who named the office's number two, Marc Hansen, as acting county attorney. "I know that Marc will do a great job in carrying on the office's critically important work," Leggett said.

By Michael Laris  |  January 4, 2010; 5:48 PM ET
Categories:  Barack Obama , Michael Laris , Montgomery County  
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