Russoniello wins easy Senate to return as U.S. attorney in S.F.
December 29, 2007
Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle
Joseph Russoniello, who served as U.S. attorney in San Francisco from 1982 to 1990, will return to the job in January after breezing through the Senate confirmation process.
With no opposition, senators confirmed President Bush's nomination of the San Francisco lawyer and former law school dean by voice vote Wednesday evening, hours after he was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Russoniello, 66, said Thursday that he plans to be sworn in Jan. 4 and start work Jan. 7 as head of the 110-lawyer office that prosecutes federal crimes in coastal Northern California. The district extends from Monterey County to the Oregon border.
Former U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan was fired in February after unfavorable Justice Department audits that faulted his management style and found low morale among his staff.
Ryan, a former San Francisco judge, was appointed to the post by Bush in 2002. His accomplishments included the BALCO steroids case, in which leaders of a Burlingame laboratory admitted to providing performance-enhancing drugs to top athletes, and an investigation that resulted in the nation's first criminal prosecutions for backdating stock options.
Veteran Justice Department attorney Scott Schools succeeded Ryan on an interim basis and will now return to a management position at department headquarters. Under Schools, the office obtained indictments of former Giants star Barry Bonds on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in the BALCO case and of suspended San Francisco Supervisor Ed Jew, accused of bribery and extortion of local businesses.
Russoniello, a former FBI agent and local prosecutor, was appointed U.S. attorney in 1982 by President Ronald Reagan.
He was an outspoken advocate of tougher drug sentences and immigration enforcement and personally prosecuted the case of Larry Layton, convicted of taking part in the Peoples Temple murder of Rep. Leo Ryan at Jonestown in 1978.
He has been working as a senior partner in a San Francisco law firm, Cooley Godward, where he was employed before first becoming U.S. attorney. He also served as dean of San Francisco Law School for 51/2 years until his resignation in July.
Bush appointed Russoniello to a four-year term, which would extend into the next administration. U.S. attorneys normally resign or are replaced, however, when a new president of the opposite party takes office. Russoniello is a Republican.
"I'm going to be there until they throw me out, or till the term runs out," he said Thursday. "If everybody's earnest and in good faith that these officials should not be politicized, party affiliation shouldn't matter."
But he said he realizes that "if the Democrats regain the White House, there will be a lot of people who want that job."