A May 24 Metro article incorrectly identified one of the people said to be potential candidates to succeed U.S. Attorney Roscoe C. Howard Jr., whose tenure as the District's chief prosecutor ends this week. The candidate is Wan J. Kim, not Juan Kim. (Published 5/25/04)

The District will have a new chief prosecutor by the end of this week, and that person could be tapped by the White House as a permanent successor to U.S. Attorney Roscoe C. Howard Jr.

Numerous candidates are in the running, and one could be called upon to head the office as the interim U.S. attorney when Howard leaves Friday. Officials also could choose a caretaker who likely would relinquish the post sometime after January's presidential inauguration.

Attorney General John D. Ashcroft has the authority to name the interim leader. Officials declined to say which way he is leaning.

Howard, 52, is leaving after nearly three years as the District's top prosecutor to become a partner in the Washington office of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, a California-based firm. His departure leaves open one of the most prestigious positions within the Justice Department. The U.S. attorney's office in Washington is the largest in the country and has a wide variety of key responsibilities.

Interviews in recent days with more than a dozen current and former Justice Department lawyers turned up an assortment of people who could be chosen for the job, which pays about $137,000 a year. Nearly all of those interviewed spoke on the condition that they not be identified because of the sensitivity of the selection process.

Mary Lou Leary, a senior aide to Howard, and Kenneth L. Wainstein, an FBI official, are mentioned most frequently as successors on an interim basis and possibly beyond. But the lawyers interviewed for this article cautioned that the most likely candidates do not always get the nod.

Howard was a surprise choice, coming from the University of Kansas, where he had gone to teach after working as a prosecutor for the Justice Department and two independent counsels.

From prosecuting teenage car thieves to putting away corrupt federal officials, the U.S. attorney's office in the District has many unique roles: It acts as the local and federal prosecutor, its location in the nation's capital puts it in position to handle major cases such as the anthrax investigation and it represents the federal government in a host of civil litigation.

Presiding over the office's 350 lawyers is a platform with enormous potential exposure -- for the person and for the office, locally and nationally. Though affable and outgoing, Howard did not push the office into the public eye the way some of his predecessors had.

Howard's successor may look to raise the profile of the office, not only in the community but also at the Justice Department, which has been perceived in recent years as favoring the Southern District of New York and the Eastern District of Virginia to handle its most important cases, particularly those involving terrorism.

How aggressive a new U.S. attorney will be in reshaping the office may depend on how long that person expects to be in the job.

The Bush administration could choose to wait until after the election to nominate a permanent successor to Howard. If Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), the presumptive Democratic nominee, defeats Bush in November, a new set of candidates would be in the running. The president selects U.S. attorneys, subject to Senate confirmation.

The political dynamics of appointing a U.S. attorney in Washington are different from those that come into play in the selection of the nation's other 92 U.S. attorneys.

Elsewhere, senators, House members and governors of the party in the White House may have input in the selection.

Under President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) had an unprecedented role in screening candidates for the U.S. attorney's job. She had no such involvement in Howard's selection by the Bush administration.

Leary, Howard's second in command, was viewed by lawyers interviewed as mostly an interim prospect. She served as acting U.S. attorney between the departure of Eric H. Holder Jr. in 1997 and the appointment of Wilma A. Lewis in 1998. But that was during Clinton's tenure, and a Republican administration might not be inclined to give her even the acting job.

Leary declined to comment.

Wainstein, chief of staff to FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, was interim U.S. attorney for about four months in 2001 before Howard took over. From there, he took a key management job at the Justice Department and then moved to the FBI, first as general counsel and then to his current post.

Wainstein earlier handled many high-profile cases as a former assistant U.S. attorney, including the successful prosecution of Carl D. Cooper for the 1997 murders of three people at a Starbucks in Northwest Washington.

Wainstein declined to comment.

Another prospective candidate, Pat Munroe Woodward Jr., is a former assistant U.S. attorney with close ties to the Bush administration. Now a partner at Blank Rome, he was a member of the Bush-Cheney transition team for the Justice Department and served as counsel to then-Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson.

Woodward said he would be interested in taking on the job full time. "It would be an honor to return to public service," he said.

The last three U.S. attorneys in the District have been African American, and race could emerge as a consideration for a city that is majority black. Potential candidates include D.C. Superior Court judges Maurice A. Ross and Lee F. Satterfield; DeMaurice F. Smith, a partner at Latham & Watkins; and Darryl W. Jackson, a partner at Arnold & Porter.

All are former prosecutors. The fact that Ross and Jackson are Republicans might make them more appealing to the White House, according to lawyers interviewed.

Ross worked for the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility before taking the bench in 2001. Satterfield now heads the court's Family Court. Smith and Jackson once held top jobs in the U.S. attorney's office.

Ross and Satterfield declined to comment, and Jackson could not be reached for comment. Smith was reluctant to talk about his prospects or anyone else's but said the job is one "any attorney would want."

Three other potential candidates hold or have held high-ranking positions in the Justice Department. They are Alice S. Fisher, a former deputy assistant attorney general who is now a partner at Latham & Watkins; Juan Kim, a deputy assistant attorney general in the civil rights division, and David E. Nahmias, a deputy assistant attorney general in the criminal division. Fisher, Kim and Nahmias declined to comment.

Staff researchers Alice Crites and Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.

Roscoe C. Howard Jr. will become a partner in the Washington office of a California-based firm.