Sunday, December 25, 2005



Relentless man on a mission


By Leigh Jones

Staff reporter

December 19, 2005



No one else in 2005 roiled politics inside the Beltway and the media that feed on it like the prosecutor from Chicago, Patrick Fitzgerald.


As special counsel for the U.S. Department of Justice, Fitzgerald has taken on some of the most influential people in the world by trying to uncover who in Washington divulged to the press the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame.


The list is long on powerful politicians, lawyers and journalists that his continuing investigation has touched so far. But the matter also encompasses the very reasons for the war in Iraq that has cost about 2,150 American lives, while at the same time striking at the heart of freedoms protected by the U.S. Constitution.


For those reasons, Fitzgerald is The National Law Journal's 2005 Lawyer of the Year.


At 44, Fitzgerald is, to some, exacting and thorough. To others, he is perhaps obsessive and relentless. But it is this attention to detail and his formidable memory that many observers say make him a tough and level-headed adversary.


"He doesn't take unfair advantage of the fact that he's smart," Frederick Cohn said. A criminal defense attorney, Cohn represented one of four men convicted of conspiring to bomb the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998. Fitzgerald prosecuted the case as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, where he worked for 13 years before becoming the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois in 2001.


"If I were someone who was a bad guy, I would not want him on my trail," Cohn said.


Fitzgerald earned recognition as a meticulous and sometimes single-minded prosecutor while working for the Southern District of New York. There, he served as chief of the organized crime/ terrorism unit. Besides the embassy terrorism trial, he handled the prosecution of 12 defendants charged with conspiring to bomb the World Trade Center in 1993. He also prosecuted the Gambino crime family, charged with drug trafficking and murder, among other things.


But it is his role in the CIA leak investigation that has brought Fitzgerald the most attention. Appointed in 2003 by James Comey, then the deputy U.S. attorney general, Fitzgerald has the task of determining whether senior officials in the Bush administration violated the Intelligence Protection Act of 1982.


His mission is to uncover how Plame's name appeared in a syndicated column by Robert Novak.


Bush detractors charge that the administration leaked her name in response to an opinion piece by Plame's husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, published in the New York Times that was critical of the administration's reasons for entering the war in Iraq.


The ongoing investigation has snowballed, gathering in its path top administration officials and well-known journalists, one of whom, the New York Times' Judith Miller, spent 85 days in jail for violating a subpoena to reveal her source.


So far, Fitzgerald has indicted I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, on five counts of obstruction of justice, perjury and making false statements. And Fitzgerald is presenting evidence to a new grand jury, which could lead to charges against others, including Karl Rove, top advisor to President George W. Bush.


The attorney for Rove, Robert Luskin with Patton Boggs in Washington, declined to comment for this article. Libby's attorney, Theodore Wells of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in New York, did not return a phone call.


Afflicted with 'tunnel vision'


Despite the dogged determination that has characterized Fitzgerald's investigation, he is a mild-mannered, regular fellow, say those who know him well.


"He's a plain-spoken, boy-next-door kind of guy," said Karen Seymour, a partner at Sullivan & Cromwell in New York. Seymour is a former federal prosecutor who led the government's obstruction case against Martha Stewart and worked with Fitzgerald in New York.


He has the ability to take complicated issues and facts and convey them in plain language that connects with jurors, she said. But beneath that average Joe demeanor is a "brilliant strategist" with a "quick wit," she said.


It may be difficult to find those who would criticize the man himself, but it is not difficult to find those who take issue with the leak investigation.


First Amendment attorney Bruce Sanford said that Fitzgerald, whom he has met, has the typical "tunnel vision of a prosecutor," one who believes that anyone "deserves to be in jail for one thing or another." But he is also an "appealing and accomplished" man, Sanford said.


The investigation itself, however, is the result of "classic bureaucratic infighting" and a waste of taxpayer money, he said.


Sanford, a partner in Baker & Hostetler's Washington office, has represented several television networks, magazines and publishing houses, and has called for a national shield law to protect reporters from having to reveal sources.


He questions whether anyone connected to the Plame matter has actually violated the Intelligence Protection Act of 1982, since the law is narrowly drawn to protect free speech. In addition, that issue has become muddled in the politics surrounding the inquiry, he said.


"It has become confused with whether people like the Bush administration, whether they approve of our reasons for entering Iraq and what should be done about the war," Sanford said.


The Conrad Black case


Besides handling the leak investigation, Fitzgerald, as the U.S. attorney in Chicago, earlier this year brought fraud charges against Conrad Black, accusing the former publishing executive at Hollinger International and three of its other executives of illegally diverting almost $84 million from the sale of the company's newspapers and other publications. Fitzgerald announced four new charges against Black last week: racketeering, obstruction of justice, money laundering and wire fraud.


Also this year, Fitzgerald's office charged two Chicago executives in a widespread corruption scandal with fraudulently rigging the hiring and promotion of favored job applicants by conducting false employment interviews and falsifying application scores.


Jack Carriglio, immediate past president of the Federal Bar Association's Chicago chapter and a partner at Meckler Bulger & Tilson, said that Fitzgerald is "highly regarded" among attorneys in the Chicago community. He added that in March Fitzgerald "spoke privately" to bar association lawyers who gathered after the murders of the husband and mother of U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow.


A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Fitzgerald is the son of Irish immigrants. His father worked as a doorman in Manhattan. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Amherst College with a degree in economics and mathematics, and he received his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1985.


After law school, he practiced for three years as an associate at Christy & Viener in New York, which in 1999 merged with Salans Hertzfeld & Heilbronn.


Fitzgerald then went to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York. Four years ago, the U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed his nomination as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, where he manages a staff of more than 160 attorneys. He has not married.


Fitzgerald, famously press shy, is known to keep cool under pressure. Dean Polales, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago who served as counsel to Fitzgerald until last February, said that his former boss is positively "mellow."


"Even in the pressure-cooker situations, I have never seen him get upset. I've never seen him bark at anyone," said Polales, who now practices white-collar criminal defense with Chicago's Ungaretti & Harris. Fitzgerald's patience will continue to be tested, it seems, as the leak investigation marks its second anniversary this month.


Fitzgerald would not comment for this article. More information:



The national law journal, lawyer of the year , 2005,  Rodrigo González  Fernández, lawyerschile.blogspot.com, Santiago, Chile

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