Cody Hiland, the US attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, announced Thursday that he had filed his resignation effective year-end.
Hiland, appointed by outgoing President Donald Trump, will step down on December 31, well before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden on January 20, who is likely to appoint new US attorneys across the country.
Hiland told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette that he emailed his staff Tuesday through 29 US deputy attorneys and 30 administrators of his decision.
Also announced on Thursday was the appointment of first US assistant attorney, Jonathan Ross, to succeed Hiland as acting US attorney until a candidate is appointed by the new president. Ross worked for Hiland in February 2018 at the US law firm for the Eastern District of Texas.
Hiland praised his staff for the work they have done over the past three years “moving the needle for public safety in the community we call home”. He said the U.S. assistant attorneys and office staff were responsible for an 83% increase in cases filed from 2017 to 2018, from 282 to 516 cases, and then a further 28% to 659 cases filed in 2019.
Gallery: US attorney Cody Hiland resigns
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Hiland, 48, was nominated to the position by Trump on June 29, 2017 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate on September 28, 2017. He was sworn in by US District Judge J. Leon Holmes on October 10, 2017. Successor to acting US attorney Patrick C. Harris.
He said he had decided to leave his position now instead of waiting to see if or when he would be replaced by the new administration, and said it was a prerogative most incoming administrations exercise.
“That’s part of it and we knew it was going in,” said Hiland. “We always knew that if the president wasn’t re-elected, the new president would want his own administration and that’s only part of the process.”
Hiland graduated from the University of Central Arkansas at Conway in 1993 and the William H. Bowen School of Law in 1998. Despite his law degree, he said it was never his intention to practice law at the time.
“I went to law school because I got a degree in political science and there aren’t many political science jobs out there,” he said. “I was really interested in public policy and wanted to work in public policy.”
Hiland said he first worked as a legal intern for former Governor Mike Huckabee and then entered the law firm of former Arkansas House spokesman Herschel Cleveland but was barred from back surgery. After recovering from the operation, Hiland returned to Little Rock and worked for the Public Service Commission.
Hiland decided to delve into electoral politics and ran for a state representative in 2006. He lost nearly 400 votes to Democrat Eddie Hawkins.
“It’s been a terrible year running as a Republican,” he mused.
BOOZMAN PHONE CALL
In 2010, Hiland successfully ran for Republican law enforcement for the Attorney General of the Twentieth District Court, which included the Faulkner, Van Buren and Searcy counties. He was re-elected in 2014 and served until his appointment as a U.S. attorney in 2017.
“I got a call from Sen. [John] Boozman’s office measured my interest and asked me to speak to him, “he said.” At the time, Little Rock was having big problems with violent crime and things like that, and I believe Sen. Boozman was interested in having a U.S. attorney with experience as a state attorney to focus on violent crime. “
After taking office, Hiland focused on a Justice Department initiative called Project Safe Neighborhoods. In addition to cases involving public corruption, child exploitation, drug trafficking, and other cases, he encouraged prosecutors across the state to prosecute certain gun possession cases as federal crimes.
This set the tone for the next three years as the office pursued additional cases of criminals charged with possession of firearms. The number of U.S. law firms in the Eastern District of Arkansas rose from 19th place among 94 U.S. county offices in 2017 to sixth the following year.
Hiland said the staff had accepted the increased number of cases.
“I have to give it to my employees,” he said. “We ask a lot of them, and it is no small matter to increase your caseload 83% in a year. You did it with the mind to believe what you are doing and you just can’t ask more of a group of people.” . “”
U.S. Assistant Attorney Allison Bragg said that upon arrival, Hiland shared his priorities with staff with an overarching look at the outcomes they were hoping for, which she believes was quickly adopted.
“We knew what his bottom line would be and that should reduce violent crime from our cases,” Bragg said. “It really had never been done before and I still think it’s an innovative approach.”
The effect was almost immediate as reports of violent crime in Little Rock fell from 3,276 in 2017 to 2,846 in 2018, a decrease of 13% and the first decrease in four years. In the following year, 2019, violent crime reports rose 5.66% to 3,007, despite the decline in the overall crime index for the second year in a row.
Ross said Hiland’s focus on violent criminals had been welcomed by law enforcement officials after a string of high-profile shootings in Little Rock and an increase in violent crime in other cities in the district.
“We had just gone through a year where two different 2-year-olds were murdered while driving in the backseat of their mother and grandmother’s cars here in Little Rock,” said Ross. “The murder rate had risen here in recent years, and in the summer of 2017, just two blocks from this office, there were mass shootings in the Power Ultra Lounge.”
SUPPORT A ‘GODSEND’
Larry Jegley, prosecutor for the Sixth District Justice, the largest in the state that includes Pulaski and Perry counties, called Hiland’s office a “godsend” in intervening in cases where state law was inadequate to tackle.
Jegley said that even the most violent criminals convicted of firearms charges in a state court often serve only a year or two before returning to the community, while under the federal, no parole system, criminals convicted of gun possession would serve at least serve 85% of their prison sentence, the minimum of which is five years and can exceed 15 years depending on criminal history.
Jegley said the result is that as of 2018, police have seen fewer criminals on the streets with guns.
“It gets known on the street and I know it when I talk to street cops,” he said. “You don’t want to make a federal period.”
Ross, whose appointment expires on Nov. 26, 2021 or when a presidential candidate for the position is confirmed by the Senate, said his plan for the office is to stay on course and keep the focus on gun possession cases.
There’s no doubt that we have a well-oiled machine at this point, and we’ll leave it up to the nearest U.S. attorney to decide whether or not to keep it going, but there’s no doubt I am going to get it on Keep going. ” he said.
Hiland said he was satisfied that he was leaving the office in good hands but had a tight mouth about his future plans.
“I have to get a job because I have to support my family,” he said. “That’s my main focus right now.”
Cody Hiland holds his hand on a Bible held by his wife Jana as he takes the oath of office, US Attorney for the Eastern District, in a January 26 ceremony performed by US District Judge Brian S. Miller from arkansas to be. Hiland announced on Thursday that he was stepping down at the end of the year. More photos at arkansasonline.com/1225hiland/. (Arkansas Democrat Gazette / Thomas Metthe)
Jonathan Ross, currently the United States’ first assistant attorney, will serve as the acting United States attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas effective January 1, 2021. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / Dale Ellis)