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Calls being placed around town for next U.S. attorney

U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald  | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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They make how much?

How the U.S. attorney’s salary sizes up in Chicago

♦ U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald salary: $155,000

♦ Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy: $260,004

♦ Former Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis: $310,000

♦ Mayor Rahm Emanuel: $216,210

♦ Former Mayor Richard M. Daley: $179,000

♦ Former U.S. attorneys in private practice: at least $1 million. One expert says if Fitzgerald went to private practice no one could touch him for less than $4 million to $5 million.

Updated: August 3, 2012 6:11AM

Have you gotten your call?

Some people have. Others won’t say.

No one wants to give his or her name for the record.

But for lawyers in town, it’s the hottest question around: Are you in the running to be the next U.S. attorney?

Several attorneys, speaking on the condition of anonymity, say a representative of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin’s office has reached out to them in recent weeks, asking to submit an application to be considered to replace Patrick Fitzgerald, so a committee, once its formed, could begin vetting people.

Last week, Durbin announced he and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk were working together to name a selection committee made up of “six distinguished Illinoisans drawn from the legal profession” to help find Fitzgerald’s replacement. Durbin announced it would be an open application process, meaning anyone could apply.

However, several former federal prosecutors say they had already been contacted by a Durbin counsel or other representative, inviting them to apply.

There’s no question that the decision as to who the next U.S. attorney will be is a lofty one.

“I think there’s a lot of reaching, every which way,” said Kay Hoppe, president of Credentia, a legal consulting firm.“At the end of the day, this is as political a process as anything. You need to live up to your supporters. Those making the appointment have got an agenda. It’s just handled in a much more sophisticated way. It’s probably one of the most sophisticated political processes in the world.”

Hoppe said the next U.S. attorney not only will sway how criminal matters are handled in the Northern District of Illinois but it’s a decision in which every law firm in Chicago has an intense interest.

“It’s got a huge impact on more people than you would ever believe,” she said. “Will it be the traditional white-collar crime? Is it going to be a drug-oriented criminal prosecutor?”

With that in mind, one local leader, Ald. Howard Brookins, chair of the Chicago City Council’s Black Caucus, has called for a minority to be named in the post. Brookins has floated the names of three highly regarded black attorneys — former Assistant U.S. Attorneys Z. Scott and Andrea Zopp and Cook County Circuit Court Judge William Hooks. 

Defense lawyer Victor Henderson, who with Sam Adam Jr. and Aaron Goldstein represents Cook County Cmsr. William Beavers and state Rep. Derrick Smith — both of whom are African American — said much attention should be paid to the minority issue.

“The U.S. attorney has a lot of discretion over who gets charged and who doesn’t get charged,” Henderson said. “They decide who gets cut a lenient deal opposed to who gets the book thrown at them. The public doesn’t see necessarily all that goes on. Defendants are charged or not charged, that office has a lot of power.”

Henderson urged the committee to put a stronger emphasis on the selection of a minority or woman, neither of which has ever served as the U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Illinois.

“It would be naive and dishonest to say that everybody would use the office the same way. This is Chicago, and virtually every lawyer of influence has friends and people who were not friends. It would be nice to see a new face in that office who doesn’t fall short in the same way that the prior occupants have fallen short, whatever that may be,” he said. “I think that as a general rule, women have greater empathy toward women and better understanding for why they commit crimes and don’t. The prosecutors weigh in significantly when it comes to sentencing. For example, a black lawyer who had to lift himself up from the bootstraps is much more likely to be empathetic toward a defendant who comes from a modest background when it comes to charging.”

Durbin has not said whether the selection is likely to happen before this fall’s presidential election. The process though, can take months.

Once there is a nominee, he or she will be reviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Durbin is a member and will receive a vote in the committee. The approval of both homestate senators is required for the Senate Judiciary Committee to take up and consider any U.S. attorney nominee.

If a nomination is approved by the Judiciary Committee, the nominee will receive a vote by the full Senate.

On average, it takes between two to four months to confirm a U.S. attorney once that nomination is sent to the Senate.

Meanwhile, the shift continues at the U.S. Attorney’s Office. As Fitzgerald departs, so too, does David A. Glockner, the criminal division chief who has served in the office for 24 years. Reid Schar, the chief prosecutor in the Rod Blagojevich case, has already departed. Brandon Fox, one of the top prosecutors handling public corruption cases — including the case involving Ambrosio Medrano and Joseph Mario Moreno — also announced he was leaving.

On Monday, Gary Shapiro, a fixture in the U.S. attorney’s office, including being in the role as first assistant for the last 14 years and who has served the government for 40 years, will take the reigns as acting U.S. attorney.

“There’s lots of loose ends. I’m leaving the loose ends to Gary Shapiro,” Fitzgerald said in his last news conference Thursday. “One parting word: The people in my office are just terrific ... Seeing how well they work and how talented they are and how motivated they are, it makes me feel great as a U.S. attorney today, and I’ll feel great about it Monday as a citizen knowing those people are plugging away.”

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