WASHINGTON–Illinois Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk are sending four names to President Barack Obama on Monday to replace Patrick Fitzgerald as the U.S. attorney in Chicago.
The four –Jonathan Bunge, Zachary Fardon, Lori Lightfoot and Gil Soffer–are all partners in Chicago law firms with experience as federal prosecutors in Chicago.
Neither Durbin, a Democrat, nor Kirk, a Republican are signaling a preference within this group to Obama, Durbin told me when we talked on Monday.
Durbin stressed that he and Kirk worked to make the finalist list a bi-partisan effort, so the same names would be sent to the White House no matter who won the November election.
“We tried to play this right down the middle,” Durbin told me.
The names of the finalists were reported Oct. 30 in the Chicago Sun-Times, with their selection the result of a search and evaluation by a nonpartisan committee appointed by Durbin an Kirk and chaired by lawyers Mark Filip and David Coar.
That all the finalists are from Chicago represents a change of direction. Patrick Fitzgerald’s selection was fueled in large part by the insistence of former Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.) for an outsider to get the job.
I asked Durbin about this and he said, “a person’s zipcode should not decide the qualifications for this important job. The process was open to people from all over the United States to apply. I think we have four outstanding individuals. The fact that they all have solid roots in Illinois is a plus, not a minus as far as I am concerned.”
The search was started last July. The timing of the next phase is up to the White House, which will then vet, or investigate the prospects before Obama taps a nominee. The next step is for the nomination to be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee–of which Durbin is a member. From the time Obama sends a nominee to the committee to confirmation could take between two and four months.
Durbin and Kirk agreed in advance that the process would be bi-partisan. The two senators interviewed each prospect individually. Durbin did the interviews in person. Kirk, who is recovering from a stroke and working mainly out of his home near Highland Park is believed to have done the interviews over the phone.
Filip and Coar called their picks a “consensus” decision in an Oct. 9 letter to Durbin and Kirk.
“All have federal prosecutorial experience. None is a career prosecutor only -each has done criminal defense work after having served as a prosecutor. It was the committee’s view that the broad range of practical legal experiences of each applicant represented an important asset for a U.S. attorney,” the letter said.
“All have good reputations in the legal community. All share the believe (though with slightly differing ordering) that the primary subject matter concerns of the office” should be, the letter said– ranking them– violence and drugs followed by public corruption, financial crimes and terrorism.
Bunge is a former deputy chief of the U.S. attorney’s general crimes section in Chicago. He now is a partner with Kirkland & Ellis in the law firm’s Chicago office. Bunge attended Princeton and the University of Chicago Law School.
Fardon specialized in public corruption cases as federal prosecutor in Chicago and Tennessee. His prosecuted former Illinois Gov. George Ryan and his chief of staff, Scott Fawell. He is now a partner with the Chicago law firm of Latham & Watkins in Chicago. He received his undergraduate and law degree from Vanderbilt University.
Lightfoot is a former federal prosecutor in Chicago and former chief administrator at the Chicago Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards. Lightfoot is a partner with the Chicago law firm with the Mayer Brown. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and her law degree from the University of Chicago Law School. She is the only woman and minority on the list.
Soffer is a former federal prosecutor in Chicago who moved on the Justice Department in Washington, where he was an Associate Deputy Attorney General–working for Filip. Gov. Pat Quinn tapped Sofer to serve as a commissioner on the Illinois Executive Ethics Commission. He received his undergraduate degree from Brown and his law degree from Harvard Law School.
Since Fitzgerald’s departure this summer, the interim U.S. attorney has been Gary Shapiro, who was Fitzgerald’s second-in-command.