Weather Updates

Search on for ‘bipartisan’ U.S. attorney, top deputy named acting top prosecutor

Article Extras
Story Image

Updated: July 27, 2012 6:11AM

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s successor needs to be someone “bipartisan” or “nonpartisan,” U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Monday as he laid out the plan he and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) have worked out to find a new top federal prosecutor to serve in Chicago.

Though Durbin is a Democrat and his party has the White House and a majority in the Senate, that could change by the time someone is picked to follow Fitzgerald in the job and goes before the Senate for confirmation hearings.

“Our hope is that the names that we will present will be bipartisan in nature or nonpartisan and that we will both stand behind them,” Durbin said. “This is a little awkward because we are just months away from a presidential election. We are going to go through the process and see how it works and what the timing will be. We’re not putting a deadline on at this point.”

Durbin’s comments came as Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Fitzgerald’s longtime top deputy, Gary Shapiro, will serve as acting U.S. attorney until a permanent replacement is confirmed.

Fitzgerald, who’s stepping down at the end of this week after serving an unusually long 11 years as U.S. attorney, recommended Shaprio for the interim post, Durbin said.

“I discussed Gary Shapiro with the attorney general several months ago, and he said he had a high regard for him and said he would actively pursue Patrick Fitzgerald’s suggestion,” Durbin said.

Fitzgerald called Shapiro “a prosecutor’s prosecutor.”

Shapiro’s appointment as the interim top federal prosecutor for the Northern District of Illinois had been expected. Shapiro has long managed the office, which has 170 assistant U.S. attorneys. Fitzgerald relied on him to fill in when he was out of town to fulfill appointments as a special prosecutor.

“He is the consummate professional in that office,” Durbin said of Shapiro. “They can remember only one time in his career where he said publicly, ‘I don’t know what the law is on that subject.’ Everybody turns to him for advice.”

When Fitzgerald took the post in 2001, it was at the recommendation of then-Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.). He, in turn, relied on the FBI director, asking him who the best prosecutor in the country was. The answer he got was Patrick Fitzgerald, then a federal prosecutor in New York. The two men are not related.

Durbin said he doesn’t plan to followed Peter Fitzgerald’s lead and scout out candidates on his own.

“I don’t plan on doing it that way,” Durbin said. “I want to leave it up to the committee. Those who take the initiative and apply will then be considered on the committee.”

Durbin said he and Kirk will announce their committee members within a week or two.

Asked whether Shapiro, 65, would be considered if he were to apply for the permanent job, Durbin said, “Of course.”

The senator said he won’t rule out out-of-towners or locals for the post. A woman or a minority group member would be good, he said, but he added that wouldn’t be a deciding factor.

Experience as a federal prosecutor — in Chicago or elsewhere — would be a plus, he said.

If Fitzgerald wants to weigh in on any of the candidates, Durbin said he would value the outgoing prosecutor’s opinion. Durbin said he has valued Fitzgerald’s advice on policy issues over the past 11 years.

Kirk’s aides attended Durbin’s news conference in Chicago, though Kirk, still recovering from a stroke, did not.

Durbin said Kirk’s speech is greatly improved since the first weeks after his stroke and is “clear as can be... excellent. In the few months since he first called, I detect the improvement. He said he’s taken 55,000 steps.”

Shapiro, an Evanston resident, has been first assistant U.S. attorney for 14 years. In all, he’s spent four decades as a federal prosecutor in Chicago.

“The office could not be in better hands,” Fitzgerald said.

Shapiro was born in New York City and raised in Dallas. He graduated from Rice University in 1968 and from the University of Texas School of Law in 1971.

Before being named first assistant, Shapiro was the office’s criminal prosecutions chief for six years. And before that, he was in charge of all federal organized-crime prosecutions in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.

Fitzgerald announced last month that he was stepping down.

Appointed as an outsider in 2001, with no ties to anyone in political power in Illinois, Fitzgerald has overseen the office during a time it’s won the convictions of two former Illinois governors — one Democrat and one Republican — as well as top Chicago mob leaders, aldermen and gang leaders.

Fitzgerald has said he plans take a few months off this summer to spend time with his wife and two sons before making a decision about his future.

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.