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San Francisco Superior Court Judge Kevin Ryan will be nominated as Northern California’s top federal prosecutor, the White House announced Tuesday. There’s been speculation that Ryan, 44, was the choice to replace Robert Mueller III since January, when other candidates were notified they were no longer being considered. He must be confirmed by the Senate, but Ryan’s nomination is not expected to be controversial. Ryan declined to comment. Around San Francisco’s federal courthouse, the question has not been who the nominee would be, but why it was taking so long. (One source said it was due to a misunderstanding that occurred during the FBI’s background check into Ryan.) Meanwhile prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office anxiously await a new boss, and possibly new priorities. Superlatives roll off the tongue when lawyers are asked to describe Ryan — “intelligent” and “hard-working” chief among them. “There are some people who are intelligent, but they fly from the seat of their pants,” Deputy City Attorney Kamala Harris said. Ryan, she added, does not. “I think Kevin will have no problem filling Mueller’s shoes.” Ryan’s pedigree begins with his Irish roots. He was born while his parents were en route to San Francisco from Ireland. He attended St. Ignatius High School. U.S. District Judge Martin Jenkins, then at rival Lincoln High School, remembers him as a talented football player. He studied at Dartmouth College before returning home to attend University of San Francisco School of Law. He later joined the Alameda County district attorney’s office, a virtual launching pad for state and federal court judges in the Bay Area. Gov. Pete Wilson appointed him to the Superior Court bench in 1996, and in 1998 he won re-election. News of his pending nomination was well-received across the board. Ryan’s reputation as a fair-minded Republican may ingratiate him with power brokers in an otherwise Democratic city. His Irish background can’t be discounted either, in a city with a politically active Irish population. But Ryan has several challenges in front of him. For one, he will have less experience in federal court than his prosecutors. In addition, some turnover and several new positions obtained under Mueller have meant an influx of new faces. In what could be another minor distraction, prosecutor Jonathan Schmidt was recently hit with a misconduct finding by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Several sources familiar with the office say some prosecutors have chafed under the aggressive management styles of Mueller and interim U.S. Attorney David Shapiro. Ryan’s priorities and how well he meshes with the personnel there remain to be seen. Through an office spokesman, Shapiro said he was honored to serve as interim U.S. Attorney and looks forward to returning to his role as an Assistant U.S. Attorney. Those who know Ryan said a good way to impress him is through hard work. “If the Assistant U.S. Attorneys will work hard and are dedicated to their cases, then they’ll have no problem with Kevin Ryan,” said San Francisco defense attorney James Collins. Personnel issues, though, may not be as pressing as workload issues. Prosecution numbers are dropping, and an argument can be made that they will continue to do so. The office still enjoys a significantly upgraded profile since the day that Mueller arrived. Assistant U.S. Attorney Leslie Caldwell, for example, is heading the team investigating the collapse of Enron Corp. And in what is sure to be another closely watched development, federal agents recently raided the City Hall office of S.F. Assessor Doris Ward. But over the long term, Ryan could find himself guiding the office through more fundamental changes — primarily, the shifting roles of federal law enforcement agencies. While Mueller’s main challenge was reinvigorating a moribund office, Ryan may have to cope with fundamental changes in the way the FBI — from which prosecutors traditionally draw most of their cases — goes about its business. Since Sept. 11, the FBI has shifted its focus in part to preventing terrorism in addition to investigating crimes. “He was recommended by the committee and we feel very confident that he is up to the challenge of managing the U.S. Attorney’s Office in this time of national peril” and the resulting focus on terrorism, said former U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello, who headed a committee that screened Ryan for the job. If Ryan’s reputation is any indication, his honeymoon may last awhile. “I do not know Kevin Ryan personally but I understand he’s a no-nonsense prosecutor and that he was well regarded by both sides as a sitting judge, and I think that’s important,” said Morrison & Foerster partner Cedric Chao, a former federal prosecutor. “There are a lot of decisions that are made that are, ‘What’s right for the people? What’s in the public interest?’ And with his judicial temperament and his judicial background that would be very helpful to bring with him to the most important law enforcement position in Northern California.” When Ryan ran for re-election in 1998, he drew from his Irish roots, advertising his candidacy in the San Francisco-based Irish Herald and going so far as to hire bagpipes for campaign events. Because he was challenged by a homosexual lawyer, Ryan courted San Francisco’s gay and lesbian electorate, placing ads in the Bay Area Reporter and the Bay Times. Ryan, who shares a Richmond District home with his wife and two sons, also drew broad support from the legal community in that race. Both sides of the criminal bar offered support, from Chief Assistant District Attorney Paul Cummins to Deputy Public Defender Daro Inouye. A variety of private practice lawyers also donated to his campaign. Former Supervisor Annemarie Conroy was also a supporter. As was Ropers, Majeski, Kohn & Bentley partner James Lassart, thought to have been Ryan’s main competition for the U.S. Attorney’s job.

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