Cody Hiland, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, announced Thursday that he has tendered his resignation effective at the end of the year.
Hiland, who was appointed by outgoing President Donald Trump, will be leaving office on Dec. 31, well ahead of the Jan. 20 inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, who will likely name new U.S. attorneys across the country.
Hiland told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that he had notified his staff of 29 assistant U.S. attorneys and 30 administrative employees by email on Tuesday of his decision.
Also announced Thursday was the appointment of First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Ross to succeed Hiland as the acting U.S. attorney until a nominee is named by the new president. Ross went to work for Hiland in February 2018 from the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Texas.
Hiland praised his staff for the work done during the past three years, which he said had “moved the needle for public safety in the community we call home.” He said the assistant U.S. attorneys and office staff members were responsible for an 83% rise in cases filed from 2017 to 2018, going from 282 cases to 516, then rising another 28% to 659 cases filed in 2019.
Hiland, 48, was nominated to the position by Trump on June 29, 2017, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Sept. 28, 2017. He was sworn in on Oct. 10, 2017, by U.S. District Judge J. Leon Holmes, succeeding Acting U.S. Attorney Patrick C. Harris.
He said he decided to leave his position now rather than wait to see if or when he would be replaced by the new administration, saying that is a prerogative that most incoming administrations exercise.
“That’s part of it and we knew that going in,” Hiland said. “We always knew that if the president was not reelected that the new president would want his own administration and that’s just part of the process.”
Hiland graduated from the University of Central Arkansas in Conway in 1993 and from the William H. Bowen School of Law in 1998. Despite earning his law degree, he said it was never his intention at that time to practice law.
“I went to law school because I got a political science degree and there aren’t a lot of jobs in political science out there,” he said. “I was really interested in public policy and I wanted to work in the public policy arena.”
Hiland said he first went to work for former Gov. Mike Huckabee as a legal intern, then joined the law firm of former Arkansas House Speaker Herschel Cleveland, but was sidelined by back surgery. After he recovered from the surgery, Hiland said, he returned to Little Rock and went to work for the Public Service Commission.
Deciding to take a dip into electoral politics, Hiland said he ran for state representative in 2006, losing by just under 400 votes to Democrat Eddie Hawkins.
“It was a terrible year to run as a Republican,” he mused.
BOOZMAN PHONE CALL
In 2010, Hiland successfully ran as a Republican for prosecuting attorney of the 20th Judicial Circuit, encompassing Faulkner, Van Buren and Searcy counties. He was reelected in 2014 and served until he was tapped for the U.S. attorney position in 2017.
“I got a phone call from Sen. [John] Boozman’s office gauging my interest and asking me to come talk to him,” he said. “At the time, Little Rock was having a lot of trouble with violent crime and things like that, and I think Sen. Boozman was interested in having a U.S. attorney with prosecutorial experience at the state level to focus on violent crime.”
Upon 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 under his purview, he encouraged prosecuting attorneys around the state to allow his office to prosecute certain gun-possession cases as…