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One of two current openings on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals could be filled very soon now that President Bush has nominated Michael Chertoff, an assistant attorney general who serves as chief of the U.S. Justice Department’s criminal division and chairs the Bush administration’s 9/11 Task Force. Chertoff, 49, reportedly turned down an offer to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission in November 2002 when the Bush administration was looking to replace Chairman Harvey Pitt, who had resigned under pressure. If confirmed by the Senate, Chertoff, who served as U.S. Attorney in New Jersey from 1990 to 1994, would fill the seat that opened in June 2000 when Judge Morton I. Greenberg took senior status. Confirmation could be especially quick in Chertoff’s case since he has already passed the stringent FBI background checks for his current position and reportedly enjoys good relationships on Capitol Hill with Republicans and Democrats. New Jersey’s senators, both Democrats, have already expressed support for Chertoff, albeit with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Sen. John Corzine said he has “great respect” for Chertoff and thinks “he’ll do a great job,” while Sen. Frank Lautenberg has said only that he has no plans to oppose the nomination. The only remaining vacancy on the 3rd Circuit is a seat that opened in March 2002 when Judge Carol Los Mansmann died. But another vacancy is expected in May when Chief Judge Edward R. Becker ends his tenure as chief and takes senior status. Both of those vacancies are expected to be filled by Pennsylvania nominees. Chertoff earned his bachelor’s degree at Harvard in 1975 and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1978. He then clerked for Judge Murray I. Gurfein of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr. After a three-year stint in private practice with Latham & Watkins’ office in Newark, N.J., Chertoff spent a decade as a federal prosecutor, first as an assistant in the Southern District of New York, and later as First Assistant U.S. Attorney and U.S. Attorney in New Jersey. In 1986, Chertoff led the prosecution team that won convictions of several members of the so-called Mafia Commission, which controlled the cement industry in New York City. Among those convicted were Genovese crime boss Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno, Luccese family boss Anthony “Tony Ducks” Corallo and Colombo family boss Carmine “Junior” Persico. Later, as U.S. Attorney in New Jersey, Chertoff personally led the teams that won convictions of Jersey City Mayor Gerald McCann for bank fraud and tax evasion and consumer electronics tycoon “Crazy Eddie” Antar for racketeering and securities fraud. Among Chertoff’s other high-profile cases are the prosecution of Arthur and Irene Seale for the 1992 kidnapping and killing of senior Exxon executive Sidney Reso, and more recently the conviction of former New York State Chief Judge Sol Wachtler for sending interstate kidnapping threats. In 1990, when Chertoff’s then-boss, Samuel A. Alito Jr., was nominated to the 3rd Circuit, Chertoff was appointed to succeed him as U.S. Attorney, a post he held until 1994, making him one of the last to be replaced by the Clinton administration. Despite returning to private practice at Latham & Watkins, Chertoff nonetheless continued to do a considerable amount of public work. In 1995 and 1996, he served as the special counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee conducting the Whitewater investigation. In that role, he questioned a series of White House aides about Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton’s involvement in the Arkansas land deal that prompted the investigation. He delved into the suicide of Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster, and chased down missing billing records concerning Hillary Clinton’s legal work. Chertoff was also appointed by a New York federal judge to supervise the investigation of the LIUNA Mason Tenders District Council under a civil racketeering consent decree, and was appointed by Gov. Christie Todd Whitman to serve on the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission. In 2000, Chertoff signed on as pro bono counsel to a New Jersey legislative probe of racial profiling by state police. Ultimately, Chertoff took a leading role in seeking the removal of former New Jersey Attorney General Peter Verniero from his seat on the New Jersey Supreme Court due to his alleged role in hiding profiling data from the Justice Department. Verniero, however, stayed on the bench. Robert Mintz, Chertoff’s former colleague in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark, was Verniero’s lawyer. “Mike is a very tough adversary,” he says. “He is absolutely single-minded in his approach once he becomes fully engaged.” Chertoff’s latest career turn came in March 2001 when he was appointed to lead the Justice Department’s criminal division. The terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon just six months later thrust Chertoff into the limelight. He quickly became one of the Bush administration’s most visible lieutenants in the war on terror, often testifying before Congress to explain and defend a slew of new policies and press the administration’s legislative agenda. Portions of this story came from the New Jersey Law Journal , a publication of American Lawyer Media and an affiliate of The Legal Intelligencer and law.com.

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