November 25, 2012
The Chicago Tribune
U.S. attorney candidates narrowed to 4 finalists
By: Annie Sweeney
With the selection of a new U.S. attorney for Chicago in its last stages, a short list of finalists is expected to be sent to the White House soon, a source close to the process said.
Who would succeed Patrick Fitzgerald has generated buzz in Chicago's legal circles for months as a local bipartisan panel of attorneys and judges worked through applications from some two dozen lawyers, narrowing the list first to eight, then to four.
Three white men and a black woman — all former federal prosecutors in Chicago — remain under consideration for the powerful law enforcement post, traditionally the chief corruption buster.
Illinois' two U.S. senators, Democrat Dick Durbin and Republican Mark Kirk, are conferring on the candidates, the source said. The senators could send their picks to the White House in the next two weeks. The source cautioned that they also could submit a nominee different from the four finalists selected by the panel.
Durbin and Kirk are expected to forward at least two names to the president.
The four selected by the panel are all partners in high-powered Chicago law firms. Several sources close to the selection process identified them as Jonathan Bunge, Zach Fardon, Lori Lightfoot and Gil Soffer.
Lightfoot, a partner at Mayer Brown, would be the first African-American and first woman appointed to the post in Chicago. While working for the city from 2002 to 2005, she headed the Police Department's Office of Professional Standards, which investigated complaints of misconduct by officers.
Bunge, a partner at Kirkland Ellis, led the federal prosecution of police officers in south suburban Ford Heights who were convicted on racketeering and bribery charges.
Fardon, a partner at Latham Watkins, helped win the conviction of former Gov. George Ryan in 2006 as part of the Operation Safe Roads probe. Fardon, who grew up in Tennessee, also brings administrative experience, serving in the No. 2 post in the U.S. attorney's office in Nashville before entering private practice.
Soffer, a partner at Katten Muchin Rosenman, served as associate deputy attorney general in Washington during the final year of President George W. Bush's administration. He also was appointed to an Illinois state ethics commission in 2009.
Among those who did not make the panel's cut were Patrick Collins, who led the prosecution of Ryan, and U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall, a former federal prosecutor who has been on the bench since 2006.
Fitzgerald stepped down in June after serving a record nearly 11 years as Chicago's chief federal prosecutor. He joined the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP in Chicago late last month.
Durbin, who traditionally makes the pick as the state's ranking Democratic senator with a Democrat also sitting in the White House, has pledged that the selection process would be bipartisan. He and Kirk each appointed three members to the panel that has reviewed and vetted the applicants. Bipartisan support is traditionally needed to advance a name through the Senate confirmation process.
"You need a leader who's experienced and seasoned enough to exercise the judgment that is necessary for such a powerful job," said Juliet Sorensen, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago and now assistant professor at Northwestern University Law School. "The reality is it is a 24-hour office, and no office has unlimited resources. The U.S. attorney needs to understand the specific law enforcement priorities and challenges in the district."