On Monday, the Justice Department undid a small part of the damage that top officials caused in a scandal of politicized hiring and firing during the Bush administration. The department rehired an attorney who was improperly removed from her job because she was rumored to be a lesbian.
NPR first broke the story of Leslie Hagen's dismissal last April, and the Justice Department's inspector general later corroborated the report. Now, Hagen has returned to her post at the department's Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys.
In 2006, Hagen was the liaison between the main Justice Department and the U.S. Attorneys' committee on Native American affairs. The chairman of that committee, Tom Heffelfinger, described Hagen to NPR last year as "the best qualified person in the nation to fill that job." Hagen's performance evaluations had the highest possible ratings — "outstanding" in each of five categories.
The job came up for renewal every year. After the first year, Hagen was surprised to hear that she would have to move on.
As NPR reported in April, a top aide to the attorney general had heard a rumor that Hagen was a lesbian. Discrimination based on sexual orientation is against Justice Department rules. But Monica Goodling, senior counsel to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, had Hagen removed from her job anyway.
That was more than a year ago. The inspector general eventually confirmed the NPR report and added new details, saying Goodling not only ousted Hagen but also blocked Hagen from getting other Justice Department jobs she was qualified for.
Last year, the Justice Department posted Hagen's old job again. The department conducted a national search. Applications came in from around the country. After several rounds of interviews, Hagen eventually won the job.
The paperwork makes it official as of Monday, Feb. 2. Hagen now has her old position back, but this time it's a little different. Her contract no longer comes up for renewal every year. Now, the job is permanent.
It is not a perfectly happy ending for Hagen. Nobody official from the department ever apologized to her for what happened. She still owes thousands of dollars in attorney fees, and the Justice Department has refused to pay those bills.
That was the department's position under the Bush administration, anyway. Hagen's attorney says her client hopes the new attorney general will take a different view.