suntimes
SPLENDID 
Weather Updates

New head fed: Zach Fardon’s U.S. attorney nomination brings accolades, challenges

U.S. Attorney Zach Fard| Sun-Times files

U.S. Attorney Zach Fardon | Sun-Times files

storyidforme: 49692092
tmspicid: 18528273
fileheaderid: 8328609

Updated: June 25, 2013 6:26AM



Former colleagues and peers piled accolades onto Zach Fardon Thursday after President Barack Obama nominated him to be the next U.S. Attorney in Chicago.

But there was no question that the 46-year-old will face a set of challenges as he’s expected to take the helm of one of the most prominent prosecutors’ offices in the nation.

Chief among those challenges: convincing the public the office is indeed tackling guns, drugs and gangs — it’s just that public corruption dominates the news coverage.

Former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who stepped down last year after more than a decade at the post, said Thursday that white collar cases get the lion’s share of attention, but that isn’t because his office was ignoring the very real violence playing out on the streets of Chicago — as well as some suburbs.

“What I think the public misunderstands is that the percentage of staff who are working on violent crime problems and gangs and drugs — is a huge portion of the office,” Fitzgerald told the Sun-Times Thursday.

The often-cited crown achievements under Fitzgerald are the prosecutions of former Governors George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich, disgraced cop Jon Burge, media mogul Conrad Black as well as the Chicago Outfit — to name a few.

But Fitzgerald said that problems affecting Chicago’s South and West sides got the bulk of his office’s attention — “that part is sometimes not understood by people outside of the office,” he said. White collar crime grabs the headlines, he says, but “that other stuff has [prosecutors and investigators] working day and night. People don’t pay as much attention to that.”

In a statement on Thursday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel was already playing that tune.

“I look forward to working with him on the important matters facing our city, including our ongoing efforts to reduce violence, combat gangs and gang crimes, and take illegal guns off of our streets,” Emanuel said.

That could become a critical public relations effort for Fardon as the city has come under national scrutiny for its violence-ravaged neighborhoods.

Today, approximately one-third of the attorneys in the office’s criminal division are assigned to the narcotics and gangs section — or about 40, said U.S. Attorney spokesman Randall Samborn. By comparison, the public corruption and organized crime unit has 11 people, he said — adding the caveat that prosecutors throughout the office often carry cases from sections other than the ones to which they’re assigned.

Fitzgerald said also among the challenges for Fardon will be figuring out how to “prioritize resources in an economy where hiring has been essentially frozen.”

For his part, Fardon held out on speaking at length because his confirmation is still in front of him.

“It’s an honor to be nominated, and I’m looking forward to the confirmation process,” Fardon said.

Obama forwarded Fardon’s name to the U.S. Senate for confirmation. He was recommended for a four-year term.

“Today, I am honored to nominate this highly respected legal professional as a United States Attorney,” President Obama said in a statement. “Zachary Fardon will be unwavering in his commitment to justice and I am confident he will serve the people of Illinois with excellence.”

Fardon is a former prosecutor who worked in both Chicago and Tennessee — where he was raised. Fardon served as the first assistant United States attorney in the Middle District of Tennessee, the second in command, from 2003 to 2006 and as a federal prosecutor in Chicago 1997 to 2003.

He most recently worked as a partner with Latham & Watkins.

“Zach has outstanding experience as a public servant and as a litigator in private practice,” his law firm said Thursday. “He is an exceptionally talented attorney who practices with the highest level of integrity and ethical standards, and has made significant contributions to our firm.”

As a prosecutor, Fardon is best known for his work as part of the trial team to prosecute former Gov. George Ryan. But while at Latham & Watkins, Fardon also represented one of the key figures in the Blagojevich investigation — lobbyist John Wyma. It was Wyma’s cooperation with the government at a critical point in the probe that launched the secret recordings of the ex-governor and ultimately led to his fall.

Though Fardon’s nomination had been expected, and acting U.S. Attorney Gary Shapiro is well-respected and liked, Thursday’s announcement brings a welcome degree of certainty to prosecutors who have been anxious to learn who their new leader will be.

His likely appointment was also welcomed by former colleagues now in private practice.

Patrick Collins, a close friend of Fardon’s, with whom he prosecuted Ryan, said Fardon had “strong and balanced judgment ... high energy … and an even-keeled temperament” — all qualities that will come in handy.

Collins said that one of the challenges Fardon will face if confirmed is mentoring assistant U.S. attorneys working below him.

“There are a lot of talented prosecutors in that office, but they’ve also lost a lot of seasoned people recently,” said Collins, who works in private practice at Perkins Coie and was himself at one point a candidate for the job.

Fitzgerald added, that Fardon will also learn from those same people.

‘He’ll be on a fast learning curve,” Fitzgerald said. But he said Fardon was smart enough to “take advantage of the people who have the expertise,” on his staff.

Former U.S. Attorney Scott Lassar described Fardon as “humble and very bright” and said Fardon’s experience as a defense attorney since leaving the U.S. Attorney’s office would make him a better prosecutor.

He cautioned that Fardon will face a tough job finding money to fund the office given the financial climate in Washington, but predicted Fardon would do a great job.

Whoever is Chicago’s top prosecutor, he said: “The office will generate great cases.”

Contributing: Lynn Sweet



© 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 www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.