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Prosecutor's Retirement a Time to Recount Moral, Court Convictions

Sunday, April 10, 2005; Page C04

When prosecutors leave their jobs at the U.S. attorney's office in Alexandria, colleagues usually take them out to dinner -- or Murphy's Pub for a few drinks.

Not Assistant U.S. Attorney Nash W. Schott. When Schott retired last month after 27 years as a prosecutor, he was feted at a ceremony attended by 250 people who spilled into a third-floor hallway at the federal courthouse. Speakers included six federal judges, Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey, U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty -- and three of his predecessors. Attendees included the U.S. ambassadors from Kuwait, Bolivia and Hungary.

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All came to celebrate the colorful career of one of the most respected prosecutors in the Washington area, a man who in the 1980s pursued violent drug lords and a shadowy militant Muslim group that targeted him for beheading -- and who in the 1990s became a mentor to hundreds of prosecutors.

"I was, frankly, overwhelmed. It was a very emotional day," said Schott, 57, who recalled in an interview how he became fascinated by prosecutors while clerking for a judge in the District after graduating from American University's law school in the mid-1970s. "I didn't even know what an assistant U.S. attorney was, and I thought, 'This is what I want to be,' " he said. "I never lost that feeling."

Schott was one of those rare prosecutors who seemed to draw raves from everyone, even defense lawyers and judges. At a 1993 plea hearing in a drug case, U.S. District Judge Stanley Sporkin told him: "You reek integrity,'' according to a transcript.

"He had a really good moral compass for doing the right thing," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert A. Spencer. He recalled Schott staying up until 3 a.m. to chat with a drug dealer who was a prospective informant. "He was trying to make a case, but he was also finding out what this guy's life was all about," Spencer said.

Geremy Kamens, an assistant federal public defender in Alexandria, said Schott once took his side in a hearing after another prosecutor successfully objected to evidence Kamens was seeking to introduce. The judge retracted his ruling.

"Nash stands up and says, 'Your honor, I'd like to revisit this. I think the evidence should come in,' " Kamens said. "I was shocked to see a prosecutor do that."

Many colleagues compared Schott to Justin W. Williams, a respected longtime Alexandria federal prosecutor who collapsed and died in 2003 while jogging in Old Town. Schott was close friends with Williams and gave a eulogy at his funeral that had many prosecutors in tears.

"If Justin was Babe Ruth, Nash was Lou Gehrig," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Gene Rossi. "It really is the end of an era in our office."

Schott, who retired to focus on "other opportunities," fondly recalled some of his biggest convictions. They included an associate of the former shah of Iran in a massive heroin case and the drug case of a Vietnam veteran who was among the first to invoke "post-traumatic stress disorder" as a defense.

"At one point, this guy gets into the fetal position and starts calling out 'Incoming! Incoming!' " Schott recalled. "There was almost a mistrial."

In the early 1980s, a member of a militant Muslim group was convicted for conspiring to murder Schott. "They weren't getting me off that case," he said.

Since 1994, Schott had headed the office's special assistant U.S. attorneys unit, in which he trained about 375 prosecutors. When his retirement was announced, about 100 former students e-mailed him within 30 minutes.

"It was like my computer just lit up," he said.

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