Justice Department picks ex-Brooklyn prosecutor to lead public integrity unit

By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 12, 2010

Justice Department officials have selected a veteran federal prosecutor with experience in death penalty and corruption cases to lead the public integrity section, which has struggled under intense scrutiny after a series of missteps last year.

Jack Smith, a former longtime assistant U.S. attorney in Brooklyn who is known for his courtroom skills, could join the public integrity unit within several weeks, officials said. For the past few years, Smith has coordinated sensitive investigations of foreign leaders accused of war crimes and genocide in his role as a prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Smith's selection opens a new chapter for the public integrity unit, a special corps of prosecutors who attack corruption in the judiciary, state legislatures and Congress.

Smith's deputy will be Raymond N. Hulser, who has been acting chief for months, since the departure of the previous leader in the aftermath of the abandoned conviction of former senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. dropped the public corruption case against Stevens last year after reviewing irregularities in the way prosecutors shared evidence and witness statements with defense attorneys.

In recent months, defense attorneys have tried to exploit those lapses in other cases. Lanny A. Breuer, assistant attorney general for the criminal division, has been pushing back against such efforts, most recently in a speech last month to white-collar defense attorneys in Miami.

In an interview Thursday, Breuer said Smith is "inclusive, thoughtful, dynamic" and a good complement to Hulser, who has more than a dozen years of experience in the unit where he honed problem-solving skills.

"I'm confident that this is the right team," Breuer said.

Smith began his career as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan before joining the Brooklyn U.S. attorney's office, where he quickly moved into high-profile prosecutions. He was a member of the trial team in the police brutality case of Abner Louima, an immigrant who was sodomized with a broomstick in a station house bathroom.

Smith also prosecuted Ronell Wilson, securing the first death penalty conviction in New York in 54 years against a man who killed two undercover police detectives during a Staten Island gun transaction. Wilson is on death row and is appealing his conviction.

Benton J. Campbell, the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, said Smith developed a reputation as "one of our best trial lawyers. . . . He' s got great instincts. He's the most prepared lawyer in the courtroom, and that pays dividends."

Before moving to the International Criminal Court, Smith served as chief of criminal litigation in the Brooklyn prosecutor's office, where he worked closely with scores of prosecutors in the office to help them prepare opening statements and witness examinations before they went to trial, former colleagues said.

In his free time, Smith is a triathlete, competing internationally despite a serious biking accident in Long Island years ago, friends said.

Hulser rose to public prominence in the 1990s, investigating dismissals and possible financial misconduct in the Clinton White House travel office. More recently, Justice Department officials asked Hulser to serve as an internal legal adviser for prosecutors investigating the shooting deaths of 17 unarmed Iraqis by Blackwater contractors in 2007. U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina threw out the case last year, saying the lawyers had not followed Hulser's advice and had built the case on statements they were barred from using.

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