U.S. ATTORNEY ANDRE BIROTTE NOMINATED BY POTUS TO BECOME FEDERAL JUDGE
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.