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Jeffrey Taylor knows he’s got a 68-square-mile hole in his r�sum�. Yes, the District’s new U.S. attorney has some impressive credentials: four years as a narcotics prosecutor in San Diego, three years as a Republican lawyer on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and four years as a national security adviser to Attorneys General John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales. He even claims to finish the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle in a single hour. But what does he know about crime fighting in the District of Columbia? “That’s the obvious issue out there with me,” Taylor says. That question matters, of course, because in Washington — unlike any other jurisdiction — the U.S. attorney isn’t responsible only for prosecuting federal crimes such as terrorism, government corruption, and white-collar fraud. He’s also the equivalent of the local district attorney. It’s Taylor’s office that decides whether to prosecute the 18-year-old that stole your car stereo, that neighbor who beats his girlfriend, and the masked men who stuck up the 7-Eleven down the street. And it’s how Taylor balances prosecuting local crimes with high-profile federal cases — like the investigation of former Rep. Mark Foley’s contacts with underage congressional pages — that will shape his tenure. Given his background, Taylor, 41, is still trying to prove his commitment to the former. D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton isn’t sold. “He doesn’t have nearly the [local] credentials that his predecessor did,” she says. “This is clearly a patronage appointment.” “To what extent he really understands the particular challenges of the community around the District, I think it’s questionable,” says June Kress, the executive director of the Council for Court Excellence, a nonpartisan group that researches judicial issues in the District. That will mean establishing his credibility within the office as well. “I’m not saying he’s a bad person, but from my point of view I think it’s kind of a slap in the face to the community to appoint someone who is so not connected,” says one prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office who spoke on condition of anonymity. Taylor knows that’s a perception he needs to change, and he’s spent much of his first month attending to local matters. He’s quick to point out that he’s lived on Capitol Hill for seven years. In late September, on his first day on the job, he attended a vigil hosted by Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry in Anacostia for a number of recent murder victims. Prosecutors in the office say he’s made a point of coming to D.C. Superior Court to watch trials in action. And he’s also made a point of meeting with Norton, Mayor Anthony Williams, likely-mayor-to-be Adrian Fenty, and a number of other city council members. “My goal is to get out in the community and be accountable and show my face and let people know I care,” says Taylor. “I’m not an elected [district attorney]. It’s important for me to do my job in such a way that people think �Hey, this guy is accountable.’ “ There are signs that Taylor is making progress on that front. Barry’s chief of staff, Keith Perry, praises Taylor for leaving the “ivory tower” of the U.S. Attorney’s Office to speak at the vigil in late September. “I think it does nothing but improve the legitimacy with how they go about their work,” he says. James Flood, a veteran fraud and public corruption prosecutor in the office, praises Taylor for being “very willing to listen to the ideas of others with years of experience in this particular U.S. Attorney’s Office.” But Taylor still has a lot to learn. In an interview last week with Legal Times, Taylor was asked which part of the city had the highest incidence of robberies — a subject featured on the front page of The Washington Post on Oct. 13. He paused, furrowed his brow, and ticked off a number of Washington’s police districts aloud, before guessing incorrectly. (Taylor’s guess: the 4th District, at the city’s northern tip. Correct answer: the 3rd District, an area which includes the gentrifying neighborhoods of Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, and Mount Pleasant. Nearly 30 percent of D.C.’s robberies this year have been in the 3rd District, according to police data gathered by the Post.) That a white Republican from California has become the top law enforcement officer for a city that is 58 percent African-American and overwhelmingly Democratic is attributable to the District’s peculiar form of governance. Washington’s elected local leaders have no formal power to nominate or conduct oversight over the prosecutors and judges who enforce its laws. U.S. attorneys are generally appointed by the White House — in consultation with home state congressional representatives of the president’s party — and confirmed by the Senate. In the District, how much say local leaders have in the selection of U.S. attorneys depends on who controls the White House. Under President Bill Clinton, the District’s nonvoting House delegate, Norton, a Democrat, was consulted on U.S. attorney appointments. Under President George W. Bush, Norton has largely been cut out of the loop. But the White House muted some criticism of Taylor’s two predecessors by nominating Roscoe Howard Jr. and Kenneth Wainstein — both of whom had previously served as line prosecutors in the D.C. office. But after Wainstein was promoted to head the Justice Department’s National Security Division in September, the White House didn’t nominate a replacement. That left the decision to Gonzales, who reached down the hall at Justice Department headquarters and tapped Taylor, his national security counsel. Technically an “interim” U.S. attorney, a change in the USA Patriot Act reauthorization earlier this year allows such attorney general appointees to stay on the job indefinitely — and Taylor is likely to remain for Bush’s final two years in office. GRABBING TERRORISTS AND RESPECT But if Taylor is still struggling to grasp local issues, he has other qualities that may bear fruit for the office. His predecessor, Wainstein, sought to build a national security section — currently about a dozen prosecutors strong — that could tackle top terrorism cases. Further growth could alter the post-Sept. 11 trend that has seen the Justice Department send many of its biggest national security cases — Zacarias Moussaoui, would-be Brooklyn Bridge attacker Iyman Faris, and American Taliban John Walker Lindh — not to the District but across the Potomac to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria. Taylor’s background, as well as Wainstein’s new job inside Justice Department headquarters, might swing the pendulum. “You’d be hard-pressed to find a better alignment to keep some [terror] cases here than having the former U.S. attorney for D.C. as head of the national security division and the former national security adviser to the attorney general as head of the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” says Paul Clement, the DOJ’s solicitor general and a friend of Taylor’s. Prosecutors in the office are also hoping that Taylor’s previous relationship with Gonzales will help the District in the constant budgetary struggles that pit it against the other 92 U.S. attorney’s offices around the country. The Justice Department has allocated 360 lawyer positions to the office, but in recent years, tight budgets have meant the office often has between 30 and 40 unfilled positions. Despite the budget squeeze, those interviewed for this article generally praised the office’s overall performance. But as if to demonstrate the roller coaster environment that Taylor has entered, a jury last month found developer Douglas Jemal guilty on just one of six counts in a high-profile public corruption trial. Then last week, homicide prosecutors won the conviction of two men in the killing of Jahkema “Princess” Hansen, a 14-year-old girl killed in D.C.’s Sursum Corda complex in 2004, who was killed after witnessing one of the defendants kill another man. And in addition to the Foley investigation, the office currently is handling the investigation into the finances of Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) and his family members. Taylor has said he has no plans to make changes in the ranks of the office’s section chiefs. (In 2004, Wainstein replaced a number of supervisors and created a special Homicide Section). But one area that has drawn recent criticism is the office’s sex offense and domestic violence section. Laurie Kohn, the co-director of Georgetown University Law Center’s Domestic Violence Clinic, says a lack of resources has led the domestic violence unit to become a “dumping ground” for the most inexperienced prosecutors and lawyers on short-term details from other agencies. “They’re not getting the training they need or the background to handle the cases at the same level of practice and professionalism that they historically have been handled and need to be handled,” Kohn says. Taylor says he wasn’t aware of the criticism, and if there’s a problem, “it’s a mistake on our part.” TURN ON THE CHARM Taylor’s supporters say his affable personality, intelligence, and work ethic will help him win over those who question his local credentials. One of seven children of a single mother in the tiny Northern California town of Anderson, Taylor became the first in his family to graduate from college. At Harvard Law School in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he was classmates with Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and future Bush administration legal luminaries Bradford Berenson and David Nahmias. After four years as a drug prosecutor in San Diego, he took a Justice Department detail to Washington in 1999 to work for Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) as a lawyer on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Those who worked with him there describe Taylor as a gregarious figure who won friends on both sides of the aisle, including his future wife, Marcia Lee Taylor, who was then an aide to Sen. Joseph Biden Jr. (D-Del.). (The couple have no children, though they do own a bulldog, Dudley.) “He’s much more comfortable drinking a beer at a dive bar than drinking a vodka gimlet at a paneled club,” says Neil MacBride, a former Biden staffer who worked with Taylor on the Hill. To further that point, MacBride says that after the Capitol Lounge — a pool hall known for 10-cent chicken wings — burned down in August 2005, “Jeff was in mourning for a couple days.” (The bar has since reopened.) Taylor’s affability will be put to the test in his new job. He’ll have to manage the competing interests of his boss, Gonzales, whose top concern is terrorism, with that of the citizens of the District, whose top concern is local crime. “I don’t think there’s a conflict” between the two priorities, Taylor says. That’s a fine line to toe. And for the citizens of the District of Columbia, who had no choice in Taylor’s hiring and have no power to fire him, there’s only the hope that he won’t trip over it. “Everybody wants to come in and tackle high-profile cases,” says Whitney Ellerman, a former prosecutor who left the office in 2000. “But in D.C. you’ve got this whole community that needs to be appropriately taken care of.”
Jason McLure can be contacted at [email protected].

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