A few short years ago, Donald M. Remy was just another bright young lawyer, looking to gain experience as a litigator and make a career in Washington.

Earlier this year, he found himself arguing a case for the Justice Department against former attorney general Ramsey Clark, who was representing the state of Idaho in litigation involving the FBI siege at Ruby Ridge in 1992.

"I was like, 'Whoa, I'm going to argue a case against Ramsey Clark,' " Remy said recently. "But once you get going, the butterflies go away."

At only 32, Remy is one of the Justice Department's top lawyers and is playing important roles in two of the agency's messiest entanglements this decade: Ruby Ridge and the assault on the Branch Davidians in Waco, Tex., in 1993.

Not quite two years ago, Attorney General Janet Reno and then-Assistant Attorney General Frank W. Hunger tapped Remy to be one of the youngest prosecutors ever to head a major office at the department, the Torts Branch of the Civil Division. As a deputy assistant attorney general, Remy supervises about 140 lawyers.

Hunger, now a partner at Long, Aldredge & Norman, initially brought Remy in as an adviser on policy and legislative matters, and Remy worked on national product-liability law reform and tobacco legislation. Hunger also assigned Remy to defend the Ruby Ridge case.

Hunger got Remy's name from a Republican, Michael Powell, who helped recruit Remy, a Democrat, to O'Melveny & Myers in 1996 before Powell left for Justice.

"He truly loves public service," said Powell, now a member of the Federal Communications Commission. "I see him as one of these people who goes to the private sector, feeds his family and comes back. He'll be on the short list of positions with great responsibility."

The job Remy has now is a big one. The Torts Branch defends the United States against lawsuits seeking monetary damages for allegedly negligent or wrongful acts by government employees and agencies. Remy personally handles certain aspects of the Ruby Ridge case and supervises senior lawyers defending the government in the Waco case.

In May 1998, a federal judge threw out Idaho's charge of involuntary manslaughter against Lon Horiuchi--the FBI agent who fatally shot Vicki Weaver, wife of white separatist Randy Weaver--after Remy argued that the Constitution's supremacy clause prohibited such prosecutions. Idaho has appealed the decision.

Earlier this year, a federal judge in Texas set a trial date of Oct. 18 for a lawsuit brought by the families of the Branch Davidians alleging that the government used "grossly excessive" force.

The Waco case has been complicated recently by the FBI's admission that federal agents used potentially incendiary devices during the siege, which the bureau had long denied. Reno has appointed former senator John Danforth (R-Mo.) to conduct a special investigation. Remy said he can't discuss details of the Waco case.

In an interview on Saturday, Remy looked weary from weeks of 12- to 14-hour days. "That's just one of my cases," he said of Waco. "I've got a lot of other stuff to do."

At any given moment, the Torts Branch is handling hundreds of cases on a variety of subjects, including aviation, employment discrimination, commerce and constitutional issues.

Remy's boss, acting Assistant Attorney General David Ogden, recently added to Remy's duties, asking him to temporarily supervise the Civil Division's 90-lawyer Federal Programs Branch, which defends the government against regulatory challenges.

There are a few other supervisors around his age at the Justice Department. Their jobs can be tricky, because they require leading teams of lawyers who, in many cases, are much older career employees.

"It didn't take me very long to see that he had the maturity and qualifications or ability that I thought was needed for someone to fill that position," Hunger said.

Remy, who grew up moving around as "your typical Army brat," went to Louisiana State University on an ROTC scholarship and attended Howard University Law School, where he graduated third in his class. Afterward, he fulfilled his four-year military commitment in the Army general counsel's office.

He clerked for Judge Nathaniel R. Jones at the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. Jones said Remy worked closely with him on a precedent-setting racial profiling case, as well as other cases.

Remy said he was a bit nervous, but not daunted, by his promotion to deputy assistant attorney general.

"I felt like I could rise to the challenge," he said. "I was trained as a military officer, and I thought I had the background to be able to do it."

Players

Donald M. Remy

Title: Deputy assistant attorney general.

Age: 32.

Education: Bachelor's degree, political science, Louisiana State University; law degree, Howard University.

Family: Married; two children.

Previous jobs: Private practice, O'Melveny & Myers; clerk, U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals; captain, Army general counsel's office.

Hobbies: Academic and athletic tutoring, recreational sports.

CAPTION: Donald M. Remy's plate is overflowing as deputy assistant attorney general.