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Friday, December 15, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Corrected version

U.S. Attorney McKay to quit prosecutor job at end of next month

Seattle Times staff reporter

After five years as the top federal prosecutor for the Western District of Washington, U.S. Attorney John McKay announced Thursday that he will resign his post at the end of next month.

"I actually don't know what I'm going to do next," said McKay, 50, who plans to wait until he has left the U.S. Attorney's Office to look for another job. "I had hoped to become a federal judge, but that's not going to happen."

McKay, who is well-respected in the legal community, even among people who have had ideological disagreements with him, was officially notified Thursday that he would not be nominated to fill an opening on the federal bench created by U.S. District Judge John Coughenour's elevation to senior status. The timing of the two announcements was coincidental, McKay said.

A Seattle native who grew up on Capitol Hill and attended the University of Washington, McKay was nominated by President Bush to be U.S. attorney just days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He has overseen the federal prosecutor's office during a time of sweeping legal changes that include passage of the Patriot Act, which he avidly supports, and technological advancements.

He has led efforts, for example, to create an immensely helpful computer network called Northwest LInX (Law Enforcement Information Exchange) that allows 113 local, state and federal law-enforcement agencies to share information.

McKay's priorities while in office have included terrorism, organized crime, identity theft and the rising toll of methamphetamine abuse.

Before working at the U.S. Attorney's Office — where his older brother Mike McKay had held the same post — McKay worked for Republican Congressman Joel Pritchard, for a law firm and as a White House fellow, serving as a special assistant to the director of the FBI.

He also has provided legal counsel to low-income people in civil cases.

"I'm as proud of that as I am of being a U.S. attorney," he said. "I think it's a privilege to be a lawyer, believe in the law and make people's lives better in a small way."

During his tenure at the U.S. Attorney's Office, he personally prosecuted several high-profile cases, including the sentencing and appeals of Ahmed Ressam, who was convicted in 2001 on terrorism and explosives charges for plotting to bomb Los Angeles International Airport on the eve of the millennium. Customs agents in Port Angeles caught Ressam with explosives in his rental car in December 1999.

McKay was lead negotiator in a $35 million settlement between the Department of Justice and the University of Washington over illegal billing by doctors, and he urged the FBI to continue investigating the murder of Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Wales, who was shot in his Queen Anne home on Oct. 11, 2001. There has been no arrest in that case.

"One regret I have is that the person who assassinated Tom Wales was not brought to justice while I was in office," he said.

McKay credited the successes of the U.S. Attorney's Office to his staff.

He said he felt privileged to work with so many intelligent and dedicated people, including lawyers, law-enforcement agents, judges and staff members.

"Of course, they'll stay here and keep doing great work. I'm kind of just the Christmas help," he said.

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez has the authority to appoint an interim U.S. attorney to serve until a new U.S. attorney is nominated by President Bush and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com

Information in this article, originally published December 15, was corrected December 15. A previous version of this story contained an error. U.S. Attorney John McKay is 50 years old. The original version of this article gave an incorrect age.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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