Stop the presses. We have kind words to offer for Tim Griffin, interim U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas.
Griffin, whose appointment has been the subject of political controversy, will announce today that he has replaced Robert Govar as chief of the criminal division of his office. He’ll be succeeded by Pat Harris, a veteran Justice Department employee.
The replacement appears to be a speedy reaction to the news reported here Saturday – that Govar had sent a threatening e-mail to Garrick Feldman, editor and publisher of the Leader newspaper in Jacksonville, over a column Feldman had written about Govar’s testimony in the prosecution of former Lonoke police chief Jay Campbell. Feldman’s column was skeptical about Govar’s testimony that he wasn’t aware he was the beneficiary of prohibited inmate labor on a work crew Campbell had provided for labor on Govar’s property. After the column appeared, Govar wrote Feldman an e-mail on the U.S. attorney’s mail system, during the work day, threatening to sue Feldman for $50 million in damages. He identified himself as chief of the criminal division of the office.
Feldman believed – correctly we think – that his column was not libelous and that Govar’s response was meant to intimidate him. We reported Saturday that Feldman had been unhappy with Griffin’s initial response to a complaint about Govar’s note. Feldman said Griffin had said Govar had written as a private individual. But Feldman followed up with another note to Griffin Saturday evening. Since then, Griffin reportedly has arranged a meeting with Feldman (Griffin referred questions about that to Feldman) and also moved swiftly this morning to replace Govar in the top criminal job. It was a situation that didn’t need to fester and it didn’t. Feldman today is quite happy with Griffin's response.
Griffin said he could not comment on the reasons for personnel actions. But he added: “Mr. Govar’s e-mail that he sent Friday was without my authorization or notification. Although he did send it on Justice Department e-mail, on Justice Department time, he did not speak for this office. Obviously he was discussing potentially a private lawsuit. Needless to say he did not speak for the U.S. attorney in that matter.”
Griffin declined to answer questions about whether there might be further personnel action or whether he believed Govar’s testimony in the Lonoke case, which led to Campbell’s conviction. “I have no comment on his testimony,” he said. “All I know is what I read in the newspapers.”
Griffin said he appreciated Govar’s hard work over 30 years and “he’s going to resume trying cases.”