Jenny Durkan, the no-nonsense litigator who was among President Obama’s first wave of political appointees in 2009, is stepping down as U.S. attorney for Western Washington.
In her tenure, she helped Attorney General Eric Holder shape the nation’s response to cybercrime and terrorism, which her prosecutors put to practice in cases ranging from foiling a plot for a Fort Hood-style terrorist attack at a Seattle military processing center to indicting and extraditing the son of a member of the Russian parliament for allegedly stealing millions of credit-card numbers.
But perhaps more than anything else, Durkan’s efforts in the area of police accountability and civil rights will define her time as U.S. attorney.
Her intimate knowledge of problems within the Seattle Police Department — gleaned after serving on two mayor-appointed task forces — led her to call in the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) civil-rights division and the FBI in 2011 after widespread community complaints.
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The DOJ concluded later that year that Seattle police routinely used excessive force, mostly against the mentally or chemically impaired, and often escalated stops into violent confrontations. The DOJ also concluded there was disturbing, if inconclusive, evidence of biased policing.
Durkan sued the city and then negotiated a hard-fought settlement agreement, monitored by a federal judge, to address the problems.
“I have been honored to serve the communities in Western Washington, to lead an office of extraordinary people and public servants, and to work with dedicated federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement,” she said in a prepared statement.
“Together we have taken on a range of challenges, threats and bad actors,” she said. “We have made our nation and communities safer, while also making our civil rights stronger.”
Durkan, 56, became U.S. attorney in September 2009 after her nomination by Obama.
Durkan said Wednesday that she had planned to stay in the office only for the president’s first term but last year found herself and the U.S. Attorney’s Office struggling with a government shutdown, the loss of several key prosecutors to retirement and “a number of cases that were at a critical juncture.” She opted to stay until things settled.
“I feel like we are on much firmer footing now,” she said.
For the present, Durkan said she has no plans.
First Assistant U.S. Attorney Annette Hayes will likely take over the office while U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell seek a replacement candidate to submit to Obama for Senate confirmation.
Before being named U.S. attorney, Durkan had worked for years as a high-end criminal and civil attorney, simultaneously becoming a major figure in the Democratic Party.
As U.S. attorney, Durkan has chaired the Attorney General’s advisory Subcommittee on Cybercrime and Intellectual Property Enforcement since 2009, and served on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s original Attorney General Advisory Committee after his appointment.
Most recently, her office extradited Roman Seleznev, the alleged leader of a Russian hacking ring thought to be responsible for the thefts of millions of credit-card numbers and other personal data. Her office also has focused on prosecuting armed career criminals and felons in possession of guns.
Durkan’s office oversaw the final dismantling of the Colacurcio crime family, obtaining guilty pleas from Frank Colacurcio Jr. and four associates, and seizing the strip clubs that were at the center of a prostitution and money-laundering enterprise.
The office also convicted Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif, a prison Muslim convert who planned to assault a Seattle military-processing station with assault rifles and grenades in protest of American actions overseas.
And her appellate lawyers concluded the 14-year prosecution and appeal of Ahmed Ressam, the so-called millennium bomber who in 1999 was coming across the U.S.-Canadian border with the makings of a powerful suitcase bomb and a plan to set it off at the Los Angeles International Airport.
Ressam, who had trained in Osama bin Laden’s camps in Afghanistan, received a 37-year prison term.
One of Ressam’s trial attorneys was Mike Filipovic, who is now the Western Washington district’s federal public defender. He said Durkan has “devoted herself to the goals of justice and fairness without regard to political concerns.”
He said that, while she ran an “aggressive prosecutor’s office,” she was open to defense input and ideas, and helped establish the first federal drug court in the district.
Durkan’s strong political ties — she had been the personal attorney and longtime confidante of former Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire — helped win her the office but were never an issue once she was there.
She supported Dan Satterberg, a Republican, for King County prosecutor and worked closely with his office, particularly in focusing on armed criminals.
Satterberg said Durkan “made the quick transition from excellent defense attorney to tough-as-nails prosecutor” who partnered with local law enforcement.
“I am sorry to see her leave this post, but I suspect we’ve not seen the last of her influence on our region,” Satterberg said in an email, adding, “No, I have no idea what she’s going to do next.”
In the wake of the financial crisis, Durkan targeted a number of questionable banks and lenders and inherited from her predecessor a criminal review of the 2008 collapse of Washington Mutual, which with more than $300 billion in assets was the largest bank failure in U.S. history.
After a three-year investigation, her office concluded there was not enough evidence to pursue criminal charges against the bank or its officers.
Durkan is the daughter of Martin J. Durkan Sr., who served as chairman of the state Senate Ways and Means Committee and later became a powerful lobbyist. He died in 2005. Her mother, Lorraine Durkan, the onetime executive editor of the Ballard News Tribune, died in February 2008.
Durkan is believed to be the first openly gay U.S. attorney.
“As United States Attorney for Western Washington, Jenny has served as a tireless advocate for the American people, for the citizens of Washington State, and for the cause of justice,” Attorney General Holder said in a statement. “Jenny has been an exceptional leader in the Justice Department’s fight against cybercrime. Jenny Durkan exemplifies the highest standards of personal integrity and professional excellence.”
Includes information from Seattle Times archives. Mike Carter: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-3706