NASHVILLE -- Jim Vines had no experience as a prosecutor when he was appointed US attorney in Nashville in 2002, but he had a reputation for fixing broken organizations. And his mandate was to improve morale and boost the office's record of prosecutions.
Now he stands accused of trying to accomplish this by systematically pressuring older attorneys to leave and replacing them with younger lawyers.
Vines, 45, has been hit with an age-discrimination lawsuit, and higher-ups in the Justice Department are investigating.
Vines has denied the age-discrimination allegations, and he suggested recently that some lawyers simply got their feelings hurt when he tried to inject more energy into the office.
The lawsuit was filed by Larry Moon, 62, a former prosecutor who said he suffered depression after his divorce and the death of his mother. He said his superiors piled more work on him in a calculated effort to get him to retire because of his age. He left in 2003.
The Justice Department filed a motion last week to dismiss Moon's suit. It denies the charges and contends Moon was fired for poor job performance.
His lawsuit echoes claims made by Vines's deputy civil division chief, Michael Roden, who sent the Justice Department a memo in November that reported what he considered to be blatant age discrimination.
Vines ''seems to believe that it is his mission to remove the senior, more experienced attorneys by any means necessary," Roden wrote.
Veteran attorneys were constantly criticized by managers, and their duties were changed without notice, said Roden, 46. He also accused the office's civil division chief, Van Vincent, of encouraging him to be tougher on older attorneys who ''are not cutting it."
Roden said Vines went so far as to meet with a former federal prosecutor at a Nashville firm to ask about finding ''a soft place to land" for older attorneys Vines no longer wanted in the office.
A team from the Justice Department visited Nashville for two days in March to interview employees in the US attorney's office, federal judges, and others about the allegations. The findings have not been released.
Vines was best known in Nashville as a lawyer for Bridgestone-Firestone, overhauling the tire maker's environmental department in seven years there. He was appointed as the chief federal prosecutor in Middle Tennessee by the Bush administration.
At the time, Vines said, he was told the US attorney's office in Nashville was a fixer-upper, with serious problems and internal conflicts. When he arrived, there were about 20 assistant US attorneys handling cases, while the offices in East and West Tennessee each had more than 40 lawyers on staff. The number of attorneys in Nashville has grown to 33. Assistant US Attorney Deb Phillips, said the Justice Department approved those new positions because the Nashville office is more actively prosecuting crimes. She said the new hires have been a mixture of younger lawyers and more experienced lawyers older than 40.