Wednesday, August 12, 2009
U.S. Attorney O’Brien Confirms Move to Paul Hastings
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
U.S. Attorney Thomas O’Brien of the Central District of California said yesterday he will step down Sept. 1 to join Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker as a partner in its litigation department.
O’Brien, who will be based out of Paul Hastings’ Los Angeles office, told the MetNews he will join the firm in early October and that his practice will focus primarily on white-collar crime.
He said that he was stepping down now both because a new administration is in place and because it was “time to go out and find new challenges,” but added that he was proud to have served under both the current and previous administrations.
O’Brien commented that his entrance into private practice after 16 years as a civil servant—beginning in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and later rising through the ranks of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District—was “part of the challenge.”
“I always embrace different things,” he remarked, recalling his former career as “a fighter jock” flying F-14 Tomcat fighter jets with the U.S. Navy before becoming an attorney in 1993.
O’Brien said he interviewed with “a number of firms” which were “all top notch,” but decided to join Paul Hastings because of the “quality of their lawyers, the diversity of their practice and their global reach.”
He declined, however, to speculate about any potential successors at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, commenting only that the office “has a history of good and independent prosecutors and I’m sure the president will continue that tradition.”
A screening committee appointed by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has been looking at potential successors to O’Brien for the past few months, and sources have listed Assistant District Attorney Jacquelyn Lacey, Los Angeles Police Department Inspector General Andre Birotte Jr., U.S. Magistrate Judge Jennifer T. Lum, and Irell & Manella’s Brian Hennigan as remaining in contention. By statute, Attorney General Eric Holder can appoint an interim U.S. attorney for a term of up to 120 days.
Nominated to be U.S. Attorney in 2007 by then-President George W. Bush and confirmed unanimously by the Senate, O’Brien succeeded George S. Cardona, who served as the interim U.S. Attorney and acting U.S. Attorney for nearly one year after U.S. Attorney Debra Wong Yang resigned to go into private practice.
As U.S. Attorney, O’Brien was responsible for all federal criminal investigations and prosecutions in the largest U.S. Attorney’s Office outside of the District of Columbia, employing approximately 230 attorneys and encompassing Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange, San Bernardino, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.
He also served on the President’s Corporate Fraud Task Force and was chair of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee’s Cyber/Intellectual Property Subcommittee.
Prior to becoming U.S. attorney, O’Brien served for more than two years as chief of the Criminal Division in the Central District, reviewing cases from complex securities fraud to counter-espionage matters. He also served as chief to the office’s Civil Rights section, where he investigated and prosecuted federal hate crimes, racially motivated murders, human trafficking violations and police misconduct.
O’Brien joined the office in 2000 after serving as a prosecutor in the Hardcore Gang Division of the District Attorney’s Office.
He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1981—eventually logging 2,000 flight hours as a radar intercept officer in fighter jets and attending the elite United States Navy Fighter Weapons School, “Top Gun”—and graduated from the University of San Diego School of Law.
Reflecting on his time with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, O’Brien said he was most proud of how “well and aggressively” his lawyers and staff responded to his call to bring “bigger and better cases,” his relationship with local law enforcement and the office’s increase in productivity.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company