Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer
The U.S. Department of Justice generated plenty of strange stories during the George W. Bush years. But one of the strangest involved John David "Roy" Atchison, an assistant U.S. attorney in Pensacola, Florida, who committed suicide after being caught in a pedophilia sting in Detroit.
Atchison's sad story has many connections to Birmingham and Alabama. And it raises this question: How did a guy with a shaky work record and a history of run-ins with the law get hired by the world's supposedly foremost crime-fighting organization? Did Atchison attain his lofty position because he had connections to powerful figures in the Alabama legal world?
Investigative journalist Margie Burns examines these questions, and much more, in a series of posts about the Atchison case at her blog, margieburns.com.
Burns begins with the actions that turned Atchison into a national figure in fall 2007:
This is not the story of a man who engaged in pedophilia for years or decades before being caught. It is the story of a man whipsawed by the strain of living up to a high-achieving family rooted in Birmingham, Ala., whose high-functioning connections assisted him for years in developing a career for which he turned out not to be suited. On Sept. 16, 2007, Assistant U.S. Attorney John David Roy Atchison, serving as a federal prosecutor in the Northern District of Florida, was arrested on credible charges of basically pedophilia. Atchison committed suicide in federal prison Oct. 5.
A dead pedophile might not sound like a tragedy. But Atchison was thought to be participating in a pedophile ring, and his death removed a useful informant from law enforcement resources. The question of how he was enabled to kill himself rather than being preserved for justice is one of the loose ends left hanging in his case.
Burns shows that Atchison's colleagues in the Northern District of Florida apparently were clueless about his suspicious behavior in the workplace:
When Atchison was arrested, his personal laptops--two, one being used by his wife--were confiscated, along with his workplace desktop and removable flash drives. Setting aside the criminal acts under investigation, this is multiple computer drives to keep an eye on, just with a view to general security and privacy, and carrying laptops to and from the office is potentially a security breach. . . .
The obvious question here is whether AUSAs are allowed to have personal "business on the side,' conducted from the office. Officially federal policy prohibits moonlighting while on the job, for any federal employee and particularly for federal prosecutors.
Perhaps Atchison thought he good get away with questionable behavior because of his family connections. It appears, based on Burns' reporting, that such connections helped him move up in the legal world, even though he was adrift during his 20s and early 30s. He bounced from job to job and moved 18 times in one 14-year period. That doesn't sound like the attributes of a high achiever. But Atchison had one advantage: connections to the powerful Birmingham law firm of Starnes and Atchison. In fact, he worked at the firm as a law clerk for several years in the late 1970s and early '80s:
At that time, he was enrolled at Samford University's Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, Ala., returning to the place where his family had roots. During the same year--the exact dates are inconsistently given--he also worked as a clerk at the Birmingham law firm of Starnes and Atchison, co-founded by a cousin, W. Michael Atchison. Well-regarded local attorney Mike Atchison moved to another firm in 2010, and Starnes and Atchison changed its name; see later post. Repeated attempts to contact Michael Atchison have been unsuccessful.
Michael Atchison now works at Burr Forman, one of Birmingham's large downtown firms, and he apparently is not anxious to discuss his late cousin. Is that because members of the Birmingham legal community once helped Roy Atchison get out of some jams? The answer appears to be yes. Through the Freedom of Information Act, Burns has studied FBI documents related to the Atchison case, and she writes:
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