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One summer afternoon in Baltimore when he was presumed to be napping, three-year-old Charles Curlett Jr. toddled out to the backyard of his comfortable home. Why? He had finally figured out how to unlatch the garden gate, the portal to adventure. The restless Curlett, now a 29-year-old New York lawyer who begins duty in May at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, has been on the move ever since. Fluent in French, he has lived and worked in Paris. Enamored of San Francisco, he took a job as a schoolteacher in suburban Marin County. In love with New York since a family trip brought him here at age 11, he eventually attended Brooklyn Law School. Last week, Curlett arrived back home in New York after a protracted European stay, mostly in the Netherlands. The adventure this time included courtroom drama at The Hague, classroom enlightenment at Leiden University, and two missions to Bosnia — one so harrowing that he composed his last will and testament before he left. “Well, I’m glad he didn’t tell me that before going in there,” said his mother, Holly Hamilos. Curlett landed in the Netherlands in early 1999, as a law clerk for the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. His work included drafting sections of the indictment against ex-President Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes committed in Kosovo. He also drafted portions of the closing argument in the prosecution of Bosnian Croat General Tihomir Blaskic, recently sentenced to 45 years’ imprisonment for crimes against humanity. And he assisted in exhumations. “Standing among the bodies in a mass grave in eastern Bosnia was one of the more profound and disturbing experiences of my life,” Curlett wrote in an e-mail before his homecoming. “That there are those who deny these crimes is infuriating, outrageous. That I can in some way contribute to achieving a measure of justice is gratifying.” Following his clerkship, Curlett enrolled at Leiden University to pursue a master’s degree in public international law. He reduced his academic load in January 2000, however, when summoned back to The Hague by a mentor, Peter McCloskey, a former California deputy district attorney and federal civil rights prosecutor working as a senior attorney for the special U.N. tribunal. McCloskey had begun assembling a trial team to prosecute Bosnian Serb General Radislav Krstic on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. “He’s a bright young fellow, very energetic,” McCloskey said of his prot�g� in a telephone interview. “He got to be a pretty good drafter of U.N. search warrants, which is a bit of an art form. “His personality, his affability and his cheerfulness — that’s the first thing that strikes you about Chad,” McCloskey said, using Curlett’s preferred name. “That goes a long way when stress is very high, the demands are high and the working hours long. “We counted on Chad 24 hours a day, both as an intern and as a young lawyer who did everything from A-to-Z. I’ll tell you — he worked his ass off here.” (Judgment in the case of General Krstic, incarcerated at The Hague, is expected this summer.) SEARCH WARRANTS Over lunch in New York last week, Curlett elaborated on the U.N. chapter of his life, which opened soon after his 1998 graduation from Brooklyn Law. In particular, he detailed a Bosnian trek to execute search warrants for weapons ostensibly used by General Krstic for mass murder of civilians — the mission that inspired him to write a will. “We went in with a strong [military] escort,” Curlett said of the team, which consisted of himself, a U.N. officer, the tribunal lead investigator and a bodyguard permitted by protocol to carry a single sidearm. “But we had a contingency plan for escape. “We flew [from The Hague] into Sarajevo, then to Tusla. We spent a day going over what was going to happen — who would be in each vehicle, that sort of thing. “Then we were up at dawn. Our U.N. vehicles assembled with a liaison group — a police detail of six Italian cops with machine guns. Helicopters had gone in ahead, as well as armored personnel carriers. “As we entered the town, people passed word and crowds gathered. When we reached the brigade encampment, the commander came out to greet us. The lead investigator said, ‘We’re here to serve the warrant.’ “We were taken through a gate — ” Here, Curlett paused to remember what he felt when it came time for friendly forces to step aside. Surrounded now by Serbian soldiers, supposedly with one sidearm per man, Curlett and his comrades entered the brigade commander’s personal quarters for a diplomatic chat. The walls were decorated with stiff-necked portraits of indicted war criminals Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. The commander sat behind a desk dominated by a telephone the size of a car battery. He barked into the speaker, and several underlings scurried into the room. “They were cordial, but businesslike,” Curlett recounted. “They clearly were not pleased to see us. A woman came in with coffee. I saw her hands trembling as she served.” Over the next two days, Curlett and the team inspected a pair of weapons headquarters, checking the armaments against a list made up by a U.N. recovery team that had combed through the civilian killing fields in the aftermath of the fall of Srbrenica in 1995. Krstic and others have been indicted for war crimes during that period of “ethnic cleansing.” “U.N. troops eventually found the mass graves and dug them up,” Curlett said. “We found most, if not all, of the missing. From the shell casings, we traced the soldiers back to a troop, then to a brigade, then to the top command. “And that’s how we made our case against Krstic.” Of the judgment to come this summer, Curlett said, “We’re confident.” JOB INTERVIEW Curlett related the same story during his job interview process, which moved Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau to ask him if he could be satisfied in settling down to “nuts and bolts” prosecution at home. His only other New York courtroom experience, just before leaving for The Hague, was a brief stint as a Legal Aid lawyer in Nassau County. “I’m happy to be settling into a long-term situation,” Curlett remembers telling Morgenthau. “I used to have a defense mindset, but now I know that justice can be served from the other side. “The things I did at The Hague were incredible,” he said. “These were issues of first impression. We were creating international law. Nothing like it has happened since Nuremberg. “But the one element I missed was arguing in the courtroom,” said Curlett. “That I’ll be doing in Manhattan.” McCloskey counseled as much. “Young lawyers in Chad’s position aren’t allowed to be in court [at The Hague],” said McCloskey. “So we encouraged him to get [trial] experience. “I started my own law career in Santa Clara County [as a deputy district attorney],” McCloskey added. “I could see that Chad was interested in rolling up his sleeves and getting into it.” The person from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office who eventually enlisted Curlett was Katharine A. Cobb, deputy administrative assistant district attorney and director of legal hiring. “We want to make sure they are good lawyers, and have strong personal character and a well-developed sense of fairness and justice,” Cobb said of the assistant prosecutors she brings aboard. “The potential to be good litigators is important, and so are personal qualities.” Speaking to such qualities, Curlett’s mother recalled a summer the family spent at a beach cottage. Her son was then 14. “He borrowed another boy’s surfboard, and it broke on a wave,” Hamilos said. “He never said a word to his father or to me, but he sold his bicycle in order to buy the other boy a new surfboard.” Curlett’s father, Charles Curlett Sr., remembered that incident and others: the times he hauled out carpentry tools, for instance, to build the backyard fence ever higher as young Chad kept finding a way to scale the top. “So nowadays, I can’t wait to see what’s next,” said the elder Curlett. “The phone rings, there’s an e-mail — you never have any idea. He thinks big. Then he makes it happen.”

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