Former Utah Attorney General David Wilkinson was ousted Thursday as inspector general for the federal Legal Services Corp., despite a last-minute appeal to federal court.

After an all-afternoon emergency hearing, federal district Judge Joyce Hens Green denied Wilkinson's request to prevent his removal effective at 12:01 a.m. Friday. She also hinted that based on evidence she has seen so far, he will likely lose the continuing legal battle to win his job back.Wilkinson claims Legal Services' board cannot remove him because its members were appointed illegally by President Bush and the board should itself be removed. He also contends the board never formally voted to cancel an otherwise automatic third year on his contract. Green wrote Wilkinson had not sufficiently proven either contention.

Wilkinson wanted no more than four more months on the job to finish investigations into agency management he says could be "highly embarrassing" to the board, and which he has said the board wants to block. He said he did not want to lose control of the investigations and related documents.

After Green's decision late Thursday, Wilkinson left the courthouse to mail his final report to Congress as inspector general. "I'm sorry I couldn't say goodbye to my staff," he said because he spent his last afternoon in court trying to save his job - a fight he vowed to continue.

"I've been too busy to look for another job," he said. "I would like to return to Utah someday, but I would like to find one more job here" in Washington for the next few years, he added.

Legal Services Corp. is a quasi-private agency whose board is appointed by President Bush and subject to Senate confirmation. It distributes $300 million a year in grants to agencies to provide civil legal services for the poor. Federal law requires it to have an inspector general to monitor for fraud, waste and mismanagement.

The board informed Wilkinson in February that it planned to terminate his contract on Sept. 5. Wilkinson later sued to block the termination and on Wednesday asked Green to issue an emergency restraining order to keep him in office while the case proceeds.

Wilkinson said the law that created Legal Services requires its board members to be confirmed by the Senate, and specifically says incumbent members are supposed to serve until their replacements are confirmed.

However, most board members were named last year by President Bush while Congress was in recess. For most federal agencies, such recess appointees can serve for up to a year without confirmation.

Green wrote Thursday, "It would appear now, on the limited record before the court, that Congress (in the Legal Services Act) did not intend to limit the president's ability to make recess appointments." The issue will be dealt with more in detail later, but her words bode ill for Wilkinson.

Wilkinson also contended the board never took required, formal action to cancel a third year on his contract. He said minutes showed no evidence of any such action.

Legal Services' lawyer Charles S. Fax said the vote was taken in a closed session he attended, but it was inadvertently left out of minutes. He produced a transcript of a tape that he said confirmed his account. But Wilkinson contended it showed the board merely authorized negotiations with him about a contract extension.

The case comes amid speculation in national legal journals that investigations by Wilkinson led to the recent resignation of Legal Services President David Martin after only 10 months in office.

In court documents, Wilkinson accused the agency of thwarting his investigation of Martin's hiring of an unnamed senior staff person whose academic credentials he said had been "materially misrepresented" to the agency.

"That investigation, which has been completed, opened up a whole other can of worms of problems that we have been looking into," Wilkinson told the Deseret News. In court pleadings, Wilkinson said he also was looking into whether legal aid lawyers were helping drug dealers avoid evictions from public housing.

"No doubt David Wilkinson has been a thorn in the side of the Legal Services board," Wilkinson's lawyer, Reuben B. Robertson, told Green. "That's his job: protecting the public interest."