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U.S. Attorney André Birotte Tapped by Obama to be Fed. Judge—& Why This is Cheering News

April 4th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On Thursday afternoon the news came down that LA’s own U.S. Attorney André Birotte had been nominated by President Barak Obama for the federal bench.

Actually Obama announced the nomination of two new federal judges, one for the DC area, and one as Judge of the United States District Court for the Central District of California—namely Birotte. Both nominations are subject to confirmation by the Senate.

For a while I’d been hearing whispers that André Birotte was being vetted for the position. It is very good news that the whispers have proved true.

He has, to paraphrase author Tom Wolfe, the right stuff for the job.

Since 2010, Birotte has served as the United States Attorney for the Central District of California, meaning he’s the U.S. Attorney for the district that covers seven counties, including Los Angeles, making it the second largest—and arguably the most complicated—in the nation.

In the years that Birotte has been U.S. Attorney, in addition to the usual kind of crime fighting—gang busts, cybercrime, fraud, civil rights violations, bigtime drug dealing, and the like—Birotte’s office has also engaged in the ticklish business of arresting elected officials, as in the investigation and arrest of Democratic state senator Ron Calderon of Montebello who was charged with a list of corruption allegations, including accepting $100,000 in bribes.

And of course, it is Birotte’s office that oversees the still expanding investigation of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, that has thus far resulted in the indictment of 20 department members—with more indictments almost certain to come. It is an investigation that has repeatedly made national news, draws intense attention from local elected officials (among others), and has the potential to be of far greater consequence than we have yet seen. Already it may have had a hand in the precipitous retirement of a sitting sheriff.

It is interestingly fateful that Birotte should have been at the helm during this investigation, as his experience with law enforcement is many times deeper than that of most prosecutors.

Prior to his appointment by Barack Obama to the position of U.S. Attorney, from 2003 to 2010, Birotte served as inspector general for the Los Angeles Police Commission, the civilian panel that oversees the LAPD.

As inspector general, even though he had no legal power over the LAPD’S actions, he was—according LAPD observers I spoke with at the time—”one of the unsung heros” who had a real effect in helping to turn around and revitalize what had become an extremely troubled department.

As the IG, Birotte had a reputation as a principled man, a nuanced thinker, and a straight shooter when it came to matters of the law, a reputation that expanded once he made the jump to U.S. Attorney.

I remember a conversation I had with Birotte a few months after he’d been sworn in to the position. We talked first about the various challenges he would face in his new position. Then the conversation turned to the idea of justice itself. I remember saying something about how prosecutors seem to have more power than ever and that, so often—both on a local and a federal level—it sometimes seemed that the goal was to win as big as possible, but not necessarily to seek justice—especially when winning and justice are in conflict.

“Its funny you should bring that up,” he said, “I’ve just been telling my staff that this is going to be a justice-driven office. Firm but fair. But more than anything, justice-driven. It’s not just about winning.”

The discussion didn’t stop there. But you get the gist.

It was a message that he has repeatedly emphasized by a “Community Outreach Team” he created within his office to “reach out to those communities within the district most impacted by threats to their civil rights,” and in his own public statements.

For instance, there is this Op Ed that Birotte wrote as the 10th annerversary of 9/11 approached, about the necessity of safeguarding our civil liberties as we protect our national security.

And more recently, Birotte said this to the LA Times Patt Morrison:

“I tell prosecutors here, you come into this job with what I call a reservoir of justice. Your job is to make sure that reservoir is always full. The only way to do that is doing the right thing, the right way, all the time.”

This is not to suggest that Birotte is any kind of soft touch. The other message he has repeatedly stressed at press conferences is that no one is above the law. They “believed they were above the law,” he said of LA County deputies who are charged with gross violations of the civil rights of jail inmates, or those visiting friends and family members in the jails. “The message this case sends is that no one…is either above or outside the law. And that is a message that we are proud to send,” he will state when announcing this or that arrest or conviction.

Both principles are represented by the fact that Birotte reinstalled a public corruption and civil rights unit that had been disbanded by his predecessor.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein who recommended Birotte for the U.S. Attorney position and for Thursday’s nomination to the federal bench, put out a statement praising the president’s selection of Birotte:

“I have been very impressed with his performance over the last four years. He has a record of excellence and fairness. I am confident he will serve the people of the Central District very well as a U.S. district judge.”

The rest of his career that has led to the Thursday’s nomination, has also included a stint as a federal prosecutor (Assistant United States Attorney, 1995 to 1999), time as an LA County Deputy Public Defender (1991 -1995), and a couple of years in private practice with Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges LLP. Birotte received his J.D. in 1991 from Pepperdine University School of Law and his B.S. in 1987 from Tufts University.

Once confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Birotte will replace Clinton-appointed Judge Gary Allen Feess, who is retiring.

Of course, with Birotte leaving (although the confirmation process is likely to take time in the fractious Senate) there is the question of who will replace him as U.S. Atty., and if the change in leadership will in any way affect the investigation of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

But we’ll explore all that later. For now we’re merely happy for André Birotte’s good news.

Posted in Courts, FBI, LASD, U.S. Attorney | 11 Comments »

11 Responses

  1. Wild Turkey Says:

    Celeste, I do not share your admiration of Birotte. It is under his command that the indictments for Operation Pandora’s Box have remained limited to the level of Lieutenant and below. That’s insane to postulate that no one of higher rank should be held accountable, and to me it shows that Birotte, whenever possible, makes politically “safe” decisions, indicting expendable assets instead of targeting established politicians like Baca and Tanaka.

  2. YouGottaBeKidding!! Says:

    Wild Turkey I cant agree more! Why dont we wait and see how this plays out before we talk about how great this guy is. If it stays as is maybe he needs to be investigated. If it stays as is he obviously did this for his own political gain at our expense!!

  3. you gonna learn Says:

    lotta great comments over the last two years — analysis, insight, passion, and straight b.s. Two things for sure, u can’t coach a team or play the game from the stands. If ur not on the field, u just haveta suck it up and wait. If ur team doesn’t make the cut, that’s life. There aren’t any do-overs. Save the hue and cry for another day. U want guarantees, and the folks in hell want ice water. That ain’t gonna happen. Meanwhile, this rodeo is still going.

  4. The Past Says:

    I have to confess I came on full alert upon reading that Mr. Briotte was pending appointment to the Federal Bench. The alert is not based in his fitness but the nature of the LASD indictments & the associated judgement. There is a need to be fair inasmuch as it’s been said the Feds are keeping it close to the vest. I think with many of us the limited indictments speaks to either a political decision or a wider investigation, probably in the tone of a criminal enterprise. If it is a criminal enterprise conclusion that ends with only those already indicted &MCJ, then I will flatly say that justice will not have been served. There is zero chance that the Lt’s, Sgt’s & Deputies in the obstruction case were acting on their own. Their direction HAD to be coming from THE highest level. If the MCJ indictments were in light of the overwhelming need to address the violence, which serves to make the process seem unfair, then a subsequent reach to the top echelons will make it all palatable. It’s complicated to be sure but also very clear where justice needs to land. Anything short of that is injustice period. I hope Mr. Briotte is the beacon of justice as those have said!

  5. Honest Joe Says:

    Baca moves a few Pawns to protect the king, Losing his queen in the process. Mr Briotte Checkmates. Unfortunately us pawns suffer the consequences. But the kings live on.

  6. The Past Says:

    Honest Joe: Do you think Baca is that smart or Tanaka that cunning? I think a little of both but think it’s more that the system is fixed for the politically powerful. I hope I’m wrong but how often have we seen the slow walking of a case as a tool to take focus away? The pace implies politics. Mr. Briotte’s history (come-from), would say otherwise but this case would require the approval of the U.S, Attorney General directly. Who here trusts that environment?
    In conclusion, if I addressed an Academy graduation or a Station briefing about the lessons of Operation Pandora’s Box do you think I could convince them that honest justice is in play? Mr. Briotte, Mr. baca, Mr. Tanaka, your serve, let’s see you make that address!

  7. Honest Joe Says:

    The Past you said it exactly. The king Baca the queen Tanaka the Other King Mr Briotte. The poor Pawns the deputies. And the Kings live on. The big players will always live on. We are just a number I learned that early on a long time ago.

  8. proud ole retiree Says:

    Honest Joe. I certainly appreciate your view and unfortunately what you say is true, however, I for one NEVER looked at deputies as pawns and just numbers. That assessment you made is true, but fortunately not pervasive in the management ranks. I did when I was working and do as I am retired , despise anyone who treats or even thinks of deputies as mere numbers. I tip my hat to everyone of you. I know you will weather this current shit storm. Stay together, stay strong , do the right thing and this will all pass. LASD will return to itS past prominence and you will all walk with your heads high and eventually enjoy the retirement you so richly desserve;

  9. The Past Says:

    Honest Joe, in your metaphor, Briotte is just a pawn in a bigger game. Lee Baca was able to facilitate the special treatment of a major drug dealer with, the father being a Baca donor, President Clinton. I might add that Mr. Rodham, the First Lady’s brother, also played a role ($). So the notion of Baca being able to influence the A/G’s resolve & ethical standard may well be described as a chess game. In your game checkmate is really ” a check mate?.

  10. The Past Says:

    Re: my last post, I want to make it clear that I’m not saying that the A/G is or has taken bribes. I’m merely making the observation made by so many others of seeming undo access by donors &’those associated. The obscuration of truth is a political art form, virtually perfected in Washington.
    The implication is harsh, maybe even bordering on unfair but circumstances warrant suspicion. The 99% of hard working deputies deserve complete focus & effort from the US Justice Department. Screw political correctness, the dotting of very i,the crossing of every t, get on with it, take the shot!

  11. Honest Joe Says:

    Proud ole retiree Thank you for the guidance of all you OG guys have given. Because of you guys I have made it this far. Only a few more years to go and I will be in your shoes…God Bless..

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