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Musical Chairs: Patrick Fitzgerald Steps Down As U.S. Attorney

Yesterday brought some big news out of Chicago. Renowned federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald — who successfully prosecuted such figures as Governor George Ryan, Governor Rod Blagojevich, White House adviser Scooter Libby, and media mogul Conrad Black — announced that he will be stepping down as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. Fitzgerald’s resignation will take effect on June 30.

I had the pleasure of meeting Pat Fitzgerald in October 2007, when he spoke at our alma mater, Regis High School (which he graduated from before going on to Amherst College and Harvard Law School). During the question-and-answer session for his talk, I alluded to his celebrity status and asked him: “What’s next for Patrick Fitzgerald?” I tossed out several possibilities, such as running for political office or working as a male model (in light of his 2005 designation by People magazine as one of the sexiest men alive).

The straight-laced, self-effacing Fitzgerald — who spent his entire talk discussing cases, saying practically nothing about himself — seemed slightly uncomfortable at having the spotlight on him in such a personal way. He diplomatically dodged my question, saying something about how he was just focused on doing the best job possible as U.S. Attorney. This was very proper of him, even if a bit boring.

My question to him, posed back in 2007, was just a hypothetical. But now it has turned actual: What is Pat Fitzgerald going to do next?

He hasn’t announced his future plans yet. From the Chicago Tribune:

Fitzgerald has been the longest serving U.S. attorney in Chicago history, holding the office for more than 10 ½ years. The U.S. attorney’s office said Fitzgerald notified the White House, Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk of his decision [on Wednesday] morning.

The office gave no reason for Fitzgerald’s decision, but said he has no immediate employment plans and intends to take off this summer before considering his next career move.

Fitzgerald definitely deserves a summer off. Take a look at this list of his major cases. He has kept himself very busy over the past decade.

What might be motivating his departure, and what will he do next? One Chicago reader shared these observations:

I just wonder why now. Ten years and it’s time to get paid in Biglaw? Or does he think [Mark] Kirk’s Senate seat will be open because of the stroke? I assume he’s not running for mayor of Chicago, or he would have taken on Rahm [Emanuel] last election when Daley retired.

I will say, if he goes Biglaw and stays in Chicago, whatever firm gets him will be the go-to litigation firm for the city. He is amazingly respected here.

And around the nation as well. So it’s possible that he could work in another city if he wanted. Perhaps he might return to his native New York — where he started his prosecutorial career, in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the legendary S.D.N.Y. — and work for a law firm here. (He was a New Yorker, not a Chicagoan, at the time of his appointment to the Northern District U.S. Attorney position, and he had visited Chicago only once before his selection for the post.)

One could also imagine Fitzgerald ultimately winding up in D.C., in some high-ranking government position. Former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas, now a partner at Jenner & Block, suggested as much to NBC Chicago: “Pat would be a brilliant director of the FBI, and if there’s a president in office who thinks he would be a great attorney general, I’d be absolutely supportive of him.” In Fitzgerald’s press conference this morning, he did observe that “public service is in my blood.”

As you may recall, Patrick Fitzgerald was a Republican pick for the U.S. Attorney job. He was nominated to the post by President George W. Bush, on the recommendation of then-Senator Peter Fitzgerald (Republican of Illinois; no, not a relation to Pat Fitzgerald; yes, the guy we recently wrote about with the $7.5 million house). Because of the immense respect for Pat Fitzgerald on both sides of the aisle, President Barack Obama kept Fitzgerald on as U.S. Attorney (instead of replacing him, which is usually the case for U.S. Attorneys).

Regardless of what Fitzgerald does next, I’m sure it will be worthwhile. I congratulate my fellow Regian on his remarkable tenure as U.S. Attorney, and I wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors. Mr. Fitzgerald, may yours be the noble heart!

UPDATE (1:20 PM): There’s more about today’s press conference in the Chicago Tribune (gavel bang: commenters). Fitzgerald said he would love to remain in Chicago. He’s less keen on running for office, describing himself as “not wired” for politics. He also didn’t sound enthusiastic about becoming a defense lawyer. When a reporter asked him about it, he said this: “Can you see me as a defense attorney?”

Fitzgerald: ‘It’s important that there be change’ [Chicago Tribune]
LIVE: Patrick Fitzgerald Speaks [NBC Chicago]
US Attorney Fitzgerald talks life after Chicago [Associated Press]
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald stepping down June 30 [Chicago Tribune]
Fitzgerald: 10 years of major cases [Chicago Tribune]
Fitzgerald’s retirement as U.S. attorney marks ‘end of a remarkable era’ [National Law Journal]
Patrick Fitzgerald, US Attorney from Chicago, Is Stepping Down [ABA Journal]

Earlier: Lawyerly Lairs: The Five Most Expensive Attorney Abodes in Washington, D.C.
Prior ATL coverage of Patrick Fitzgerald

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