Shea, 60, was named the District’s interim U.S. attorney by Attorney General William P. Barr effective Feb. 3.
But within weeks, Shea came under fire for sidelining the prosecutors in his office and aligning with Justice Department leaders who intervened to soften the sentencing recommendation for Stone, who was convicted by a federal jury of obstructing a House investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference. Shea was criticized again earlier this month when he filed a motion to implement Barr’s decision to dismiss Flynn’s guilty plea to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador before Trump’s inauguration.
Others said the actions, combined with Barr’s filling of several other top supervisory positions in the office, left them uneasy and worried that the White House was interfering in prosecutions. The selection of Herdman promises yet another shake-up at a time when court operations are limited because of the pandemic and most prosecutors are working from their homes.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Washington has 300 lawyers and is the largest in the country. It is unique in that prosecutors who work out of the office at 555 4th St. NW handle both federal and local cases, including national security and political corruption cases as well as homicide, drug and weapons cases. The office also last year took over cases handed off after special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia probe.
In a statement, Barr thanked Shea and praised Herdman, saying, “This nomination is a reflection [of] his sharp intellect, sound judgment, and dedication to the mission of the Department of Justice. Justin has proven himself to be a fair prosecutor, capable litigator, and excellent manager.”
Shea will now become the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, an administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters. He will be succeeded as of Tuesday on an acting basis by Michael R. Sherwin, whom Barr had picked to serve as Shea’s No. 2, and who can remain through mid-December without need of Senate approval.
Herdman, 44, is a former Navy and active Air Force reserve officer and judge advocate. He holds a law degree from Harvard, a bachelor’s from Ohio University and a master’s from the University of Glasgow.
From 2006 through 2013 as a prosecutor in Northern Ohio, Herdman handled criminal cases within the office’s terrorism squad, including the prosecution of five activists who plotted to blow up the Ohio 82 bridge spanning the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in 2012.
Though he was based in Cleveland, Barr made him vice chair of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee, which meant he spent more time than others considering broader Justice Department goals and interacting with Justice Department leadership in the District.
Before Trump tapped him as U.S. attorney in Northern Ohio, Herdman worked as a partner at Jones Day, a Cleveland-based law firm. He also was an assistant district attorney in New York City for several years.
Colleagues praised Herdman’s leadership, including First Assistant U.S. Attorney of Maryland Jon Lenzner, who worked with Herdman in New York in 2004 and 2005.
“Since his time in the Manhattan DA’s Office, where I first met and worked with Justin, he has been an exemplary public servant and a tough, effective litigator,” Lenzner said in an email. “The District of Columbia is getting a good prosecutor and a dynamic leader.”
The Ohio-born Herdman was confirmed by the Senate to serve as U.S. attorney for Cleveland in 2017 after both Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) recommended his nomination to Trump.
Six weeks after being named U.S. attorney in Ohio, Herdman disbanded that office’s civil rights unit — which also handled sex trafficking, labor trafficking and excessive force by police claims — and established a new division that focused on violent crime by working with federal officials to target gangs and build stronger conspiracy cases, according to stories in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Herdman’s priorities, he told prosecutors, were national security, narcotics and violent crime. Cases that had been handled by the civil rights unit had been divided among other units within the office.
Herdman must still be confirmed by the Senate for the D.C. position, the administration official said, making it unclear when precisely he will arrive.
Before the pandemic struck locally, Shea held meetings with neighborhood groups and city leaders. In one with leaders in the city’s LGBTQ community, he assured attendees he would focus on hate-crime prosecutions, said attendee Kent Boese, a member of the Rainbow Caucus.
“Our concern was how long are you going to be here,” Boese said.
Boese said Shea assured the group he had no intention to leave. But Shea also told them such a decision ultimately was not up to him.
Shea’s interim appointment was scheduled to expire June 2 if he was not appointed by Washington’s federal district court.
The office has seen unusual changes in leadership in the past five months. Jessie K. Liu served as U.S. attorney for the District from September 2017 through January 2020. She resigned to take a top job with the Treasury Department, but that nomination was revoked.
Alice Crites contributed to this report.