Minnesota's U.S. Attorney Paulose is the epitome of low profile public official

United States Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson once said a U.S. attorney has more control over life, liberty, and reputation than any other person in America. But if you thumb through the Department of Justice's manual for U.S. attorneys, you're unlikely to find anything about the U.S. attorney's public role.

Nevertheless, it's an important one, according to Washington University law professor Sam Buell. Buell served as a federal prosecutor in New York, Boston, and Houston, and led the prosecution against Enron's top officers.

"Most, if not all, federal prosecutors have understood that it's a part of their mission to communicate about what they're doing," says Buell. "That usually includes holding press conferences, discussions with the press about significant developments in cases, such as indictments, guilty verdicts, and sentences."

"The U.S. attorney's job is to be the local face of federal law enforcement within the district."

Previous U.S. attorneys in Minnesota, such as Tom Heffelfinger and David Lillehaug, had done just that. At times, they agreed to live and taped interviews, and often appeared at community meetings.

They were not always forthcoming with answers to pointed questions, however. Given the confidential nature of investigations and lawsuits, they often could not give details. In fact, they have not wanted to comment on Rachel Paulose's tenure. Nevertheless, they have been visible.

University of Minnesota Law School professor Kevin Washburn, who is a former assistant U.S. attorney, says those who occupy that office wield a great deal of power. They decide how to direct the federal government's limited resources to fight crimes specific to a local community.

For example, one U.S. attorney may focus on prosecuting a particular drug crime such as meth, while others may focus on white-collar crime.

"The U.S. attorney's job is to be the local face of federal law enforcement within the district," says Washburn. "You have to be a real person to people in some communities before they will open up to you. So it's an important role to get in touch with those people, to develop the kind of trust where they will be willing to report crimes to you, sometimes be willing to report on their own neighbors, give you tips on who they believe did the offense."

MPR called and left numerous messages at Paulose's office asking for a list of her past public appearances and press conferences. Calls were not returned.

A former FBI special agent in charge says U.S. attorneys have different styles. Nick O'Hara has worked with at least a half dozen U.S. attorneys in various parts of the country. He says each U.S. attorney is different.

O'Hara says not every U.S. attorney is as visible as Heffelfinger and Lillehaug were.

"They liked to sell what they did, and people liked to see what they did, and people liked to listen to what they had to say," says O'Hara. "So it's a style thing. Some people aren't comfortable doing it. When you are comfortable doing it, it's good for your outfit."

Sam Buell, the former assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted Enron's top brass, says the office needs a champion. Buell says the public needs to know what kind of cases the office is prosecuting, not only to build trust but also to deter crime.

"You want to make sure you're getting mileage out of the resources that you're spending, by having your cases be genuinely public and having people know what you're doing, so that the cases you're doing are having an impact -- not just in terms of the defendants you're prosecuting, but people who are possibly engaging in the same kind of activity," Buell says.

Last week, Rachel Paulose spoke about corporate fraud to the Federal Bar Association at the Minneapolis Club. The event was closed to the public.