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Michael A. Battle, the first African-American to hold the post of U.S. attorney in Western New York, is in line for a major promotion in Washington.

The U.S. Justice Department is expected to announce today that Battle, 49, will be appointed to a high-ranking job under new Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Battle said late Thursday that he cannot comment until after an announcement is made in Washington, but four reliable law enforcement sources confirmed that he will be promoted to a high position in Gonzales' administration.

"He'll definitely be in (Gonzales') inner circle," said one source familiar with the scenario.

The move is expected to take place within the next two months. Kathleen M. Mehltretter, Battle's top assistant, will probably be the acting U.S. attorney for this region until a successor is named.

Battle has been the U.S. attorney here since February 2002. He is widely known to be a favorite of President Bush, who has publicly applauded his work on the "Lackawanna Six" case, frequently cited by the president as a successful strike against terrorists' recruiting efforts.

And Battle has many supporters in Buffalo's legal community who hope he will eventually return to the region, as a federal judge.

"I'm glad to see him moving on and doing well, but I'm disappointed to see him leaving Western New York," said Frank B. Mesiah, president of the Buffalo branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"It's a loss for our entire community, not just the minority community. Mike is the kind of person who has the ability to see all sides of an issue. He's not an idealogue."

A native of New York City, Battle was a star football player at Ithaca College before graduating from the University at Buffalo Law School.

Prior to his appointment as U.S. attorney, he worked as a legal aid attorney, federal drug prosecutor, Erie County Family Court judge, chief of the Federal Public Defenders office in Buffalo, and chief local attorney for the state Attorney General's office.

Battle's current job, as the chief federal prosecutor for Western New York, will be highly sought by area attorneys. The U.S. attorney oversees hundreds of criminal and civil cases throughout the region.


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