AAG Caldwell Cites Lack of Experience and Oversight at Some U.S. Attorney’s Offices

Leslie Caldwell

Leslie Caldwell

Leslie Caldwell, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, expressed some surprising views yesterday at a Federalist Society event on criminal overreach at the National Press Club in D.C.

As reported by Jody Godoy of Law 360,

She observed that the “quality of the lawyers” and resources varies greatly between U.S. attorney’s offices.

“I acknowledge there are cases that get filed that shouldn’t be filed. There are districts where the oversight is not what it should be. The experience level is not what it should be,” Caldwell said.

She said DOJ Criminal Division attorneys get “far more robust” training than federal prosecutors out in the states do. And when asked about how the DOJ enforces a provision in the U.S. attorney’s manual advising prosecutors to consider noncriminal options, Caldwell replied that the manual is “much more regularly used in Washington, in the Criminal Division, than it is in the field.”

She encouraged attorneys to raise concerns with DOJ headquarters, known as Main Justice, and gave a couple of anecdotes illustrating how higher-ups killed ill-conceived cases.

In one instance, Caldwell said, Main Justice put the brakes on an attempt by an unnamed U.S. attorney to indict two partners at a major Chicago law firm who were representing a corporate client. The lawyers had attempted to get more time to respond to a subpoena and were nearly hit with an obstruction-of-justice charge.

“That prosecutor had never had that conversation before with a defense lawyer. That prosecutor didn’t know that that’s how things work … supervisory ranks did not recognize that that was not obstruction of justice,” Caldwell said, adding “thank goodness” a review by Main Justice was required.

Another time DOJ higher-ups stepped in, according to Caldwell, was when a small district attempted to indict all the adult residents of a town on racketeering charges since they were members of a religious sect that got its income through government program fraud.

In another example Caldwell gave, the DOJ in Washington played a mitigating role when a U.S. attorney tried to get high penalties for a bank facing treasury sanctions violations.

The cases illustrate that escalating concerns with a case can sometimes be effective, Caldwell said.

“It’s not always going to work when you appeal beyond the line attorney, but we recommend that if you feel strongly about a case, you at least ask to be heard,” Caldwell said.

John Richter

John Richter

NAFUSA member John Richter, another member of The Federalist Society panel remarked, according to Godoy, that even at DOJ headquarters, other sections lack criminal experience. Richter, a partner at King & Spalding, had represented Vascular Solutions, Inc., a medical device company that was acquitted of criminal off-label promotion earlier this year in a case prosecuted by a U.S. Attorney’s office and a unit from Main Justice.

Bharara Expects To Remain as U.S. Attorney Under Trump

Prett Bharara/ Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

Prett Bharara/ Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

The New York Times reported this morning that Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said on Wednesday that he intended to remain in office under President-elect Trump’s administration.

Bharara was appointed in 2009 by President Obama and has served for seven years. He made the announcement after meeting with Trump at the Trump Tower. Bharara said he was asked to stay on by the president-elect and by Senator Jeff Sessions, who is the choice for attorney general.

See Bharara Says He Will Stay U.S. Attorney Under Trump.

Ernie Williams Dies

Ernie Williams

Judge Ernie Williams

Judge Ernie Williams, who served as the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee, died this week.  Judge Williams is a veteran who upon graduating high school entered the United States Marine Corps and served there from 1965 until 1969. His service included a tour in Vietnam as well as being selected as a member of the Marine Corps Color Guard in Washington, D.C. As such, he served at the White House and was ultimately honorably discharged as a sergeant.

Judge Williams returned from the Marine Corps and graduated from the University of Tennessee in December of 1974. He obtained his doctorate of jurisprudence from the Nashville School of Law in May of 1980. He ultimately moved to Franklin Tennessee and opened his own law practice where he quickly gained a reputation for being a skilled trial lawyer. President George H.W. Bush selected him to be the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee in 1991. In that role, he supervised the United States Attorney’s office in Nashville which was comprised of 75 employees and 19 assistant United States attorneys.

Judge Williams was considered to be a hands-on US attorney, actively involved in the trying of cases. These cases involved all types of federal crimes including large drug cases, sexual offenses, kidnappings and murders.

Upon leaving the United States Attorney’s office, he returned to Franklin, Tennessee where he resumed his private practice. He and his wife Nancy were very active in the community and assumed many leadership roles. His wife served on the County Commission until her untimely death in 2002. At that time, the County Commission appointed Judge Williams to fill her vacancy. He was elected to two successive terms following his appointment to represent the 9th Commissioner, he chaired numerous committees, including the budget committee. He is past chairman and board member of My Friends House, an organization that houses and assists at-risk youth throughout the community. He has also served on numerous professional legal associations. He was a Certified Supreme Court Rule 31 Civil and Family Law Mediator.

Prior to establishing Williams, Beal & Nations in 2013 in Franklin, Tennessee, Judge Williams was appointed as presiding judge of the Williamson County General Sessions Court, Division II. The General Sessions Court hears all types of small claims civil suits as well as criminal matters. As a General Sessions Judge, Judge Williams had the authority to dispose of misdemeanor cases and determine whether probable cause existed for felony charges to be brought before the Circuit Court.

Judge Williams lived in Williamson County and been a practicing attorney for 34 years. There are few attorneys in the Middle Tennessee area that have not had cases against him, mediated by him or appeared in front of him. He is survived by three children and five grandchildren.

As is our custom, NAFUSA will request that an American flag be flown over Main Justice in Judge Williams honor as a token of the high regard with which he was held by his colleagues.

Sessions is Trump’s Pick for AG

Sessions with Selden and Smietanka

Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama is the choice of President-elect Donald Trump to be the next attorney general of the United States, according to press reports citing “officials close to the transition.” If confirmed, Sessions would be the third former United States Attorney in a row to serve as AG. From 1981 to 1993 he served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama. He has been a senator from Alabama since 1997, currently serving on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Sessions is shown above with NAFUSA members Jack Selden and John Smietanka at the NAFUSA 2013 annual conference in Washington, DC.

Mary Jo White to Step Down at SEC

Mary Jo WhiteOn Monday, November 13, 2016, NAFUSA member Mary Jo White announced she will step down as the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission two years before the end of her term. She will depart at the conclusion of Obama’s term in January. White served as the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York 1993-2002. She was approved by the Senate through a unanimous consent motion after facing little opposition through the confirmation process. White, formerly a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton, was named in 2013 one of “The Most Influential Lawyers in America” by the National Law Journal.


Fiske Fellows Celebrate 15 Years

Fiske Fellows

The University of Michigan Law Quadrangle reported in its Fall 2016 issue that NAFUSA member Robert Fiske (SDNY 1976-1980) celebrated in July the 15th anniversary of the program he developed at the law school to launch government service careers.

In July, Fiske Fellows gathered in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the program that helped them get their starts, and the man who made it possible. In 2001, Bob Fiske, ’55, HLLD ’97, created the Robert B. Fiske Jr. Fellowship Program for Government Service to encourage recent Michigan Law graduates to pursue positions as government lawyers. The fellowship pays both college and law school debt for three years plus a stipend; it has supported 49 fellows to date. Fiske, who is senior counsel at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, has spent large portions of his career in public service and says the synergy between public service and private practice makes people who do both better at each. “I want graduates to reap the life-changing benefits of government service without having to worry about their debt.” As evidenced by the tributes presented to Fiske at the celebration, he has more than accomplished that mission.

The 2016 Fellows are pictured below with Bob Fiske (left to right) Caroline Flynn, ’13, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel; Ben Clark, ’14, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; John Broderick, ’13, environment and natural resources division of the U.S. Department of Justice; and Megan DeMarco, ’16, New York County District Attorney’s Office.

2016 Fiske fellows

The Law Quadrangle also reported the Fiske was selected by the American Inns of Court to receive the 2016 Lewis F. Powell Jr. Award for Professionalism and Ethics. The award was presented at the Supreme Court of the United States. Fiske is senior counsel at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP.

Vaira Laments the Decline of Skilled Trial Lawyers

NAFUSA member Peter Vaira discussed the “vanishing trial lawyer” in an article printed in The Legal Intelligencer on November 14, 2016, The Important Role of a Trial Lawyer. Vaira points out that “Civil trials have diminished drastically, and, because of that, the number of skilled trial lawyers has declined.” He suggests training young lawyers to learn trial skills and argues this kind of training is the responsibility  of the entire bench and bar. He closes with: “fellow bar members, do not let this great feature of the law practice wither away for the sake of economy in discovery or reducing training costs.”

Vaira (ED Pennsylvania 1978-1983) is a member of Greenblatt, Engle, Funt & Flores in Philadelphia.

Janet Reno Dies at 78

Janet RenoJanet Reno, the first woman to serve as attorney general of the United States, died this morning at her home in Miami-Dade County, Florida, from complications of Parkinson’s disease.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch released the following statement:

With the passing of Janet Reno, the Department of Justice has lost one of the most effective, decisive and well-respected leaders in its proud history.  From her years in state law enforcement to her long and eventful tenure as Attorney General, Janet Reno always strove, as she put it, to do her ‘level best.’  She led the department in a time of turmoil and change, confronting issues ranging from international and domestic terrorism to fair competition in the emerging technology sector.  In meeting these challenges, she was guided by one simple test: to do what the law and the facts required.  She accepted the results of that test regardless of which way the political winds were blowing.  She never shied from criticism or shirked responsibility, earning her the affection of her subordinates, the respect of her critics, and the esteem of the American people.  And of course, as the first woman to serve as attorney general, she was an inspiration and a trailblazer for so many women working in law enforcement and government — including me.  The United States is a stronger, safer and more just place because of Janet Reno’s leadership, and she will be dearly missed.

Earlier this year, NAFUSA became a Founding Donor of the Janet Reno Endowment at Georgetown University, having made a $10,000 contribution.

Charlton Defends Comey

Paul Charlton

Paul Charlton

NAFUSA member Paul Charlton (Arizona 2001-2007) penned an OpEd on November 4, 2016 in The Washington Post, in defense of FBI Director James Comey: James Comey has always believed in doing what’s right and ignoring politics.

Charlton writes:

Now Comey, the director of the FBI, is being accused of interfering in the presidential election for notifying Congress last week that federal agents had found new emails that could be pertinent to the bureau’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private server. What Comey is doing, though, is what he’s always done: standing up for what he believes is right, no matter the political consequences.


While many may disagree with Comey’s decisions today, we are better served if we reserve judgment. In the near future, the nation will look back and realize the wisdom of trusting a public servant with moral character.