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The recent circulation of FBI background check materials has raised the confidence level in legal circles that former U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello will be returning to the job as top federal prosecutor in the San Francisco Bay Area, a job he held from 1982-1990. The conservative and respected prosecutor with a long track record of major criminal prosecutions would be returning to an office that has been plagued by internal strife over mismanagement and defection of experienced prosecutors to private practice in recent years. Russoniello, a senior counsel at Cooley Godward Kronish in white-collar defense, is dean of the San Francisco Law School. He did not return calls for comment on rumors that he will be nominated to the post to fill the vacancy created by the firing of former U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan in January. Current interim U.S. Attorney Scott Schools was appointed by President Bush to replace Ryan but indicated in the past he did not expect to keep the job to the end of the term. Schools was general counsel for the Justice Department’s Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, which oversees ethics issues for U.S. attorney offices nationally. He also worked in South Carolina as interim U.S. attorney. A field of up to seven lawyers vied initially for the post but as the field narrowed some finalists dropped out at least in part because the normal four-year term might end after just 18 months with the election of a new president, according to insiders who agreed to talk for background. In addition, conflict of interest rules would make the short-term job expensive for private practitioners. The rules prevent the U.S. attorney from accepting defense work on cases involving the Northern District office for more than two years after the term ends. Others who were under consideration included David Anderson, managing partner at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, and Patrick Robbins, of Shearman & Sterling, both former prosecutors. Also mentioned in the running was Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Crudo, a white-collar crime prosecutor. Russoniello has a distinguished record of high profile wins and doesn’t shy away from controversial cases. He prosecuted Hitachi and Mitsubishi corporations for theft of IBM trade secrets; won convictions in two espionage cases Jerry Whitworth and James D. Harper. He personally prosecuted People’s Temple zealot Larry Layton for his role in the murder of Congressman Leo Ryan in Jonestown, Guyana.

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