Former US Attorney for the District of Colorado John Walsh. (Lonnie D Tague / Department of Justice)
John Walsh, a former U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado, is joining Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr as a partner in Denver, where the Am Law 100 firm has built up a small but impressive office over the past three years.
Walsh, who stepped down from his post as the top federal prosecutor in Colorado on Aug. 10, gives Wilmer’s Mile-High City outpost a litigator who was recently one of the longest-tenured and influential U.S. attorneys in the country. He will also work with Wilmer’s offices in California and with Alejandro Mayorkas, a former No. 2 official at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security who joined Wilmer in October as a partner in Washington, D.C.
The U.S. Department of Justice said that Walsh was the longest-serving top U.S. attorney in Colorado since the 1980s. He left the Justice Department’s Denver office six years to the day he took the position. Walsh served as chairman of the influential Advisory Committee of U.S. Attorneys, which helps set Justice Department strategy and policy.
After what he called a “big, elaborate process” interviewing with a number of firms, Walsh said he chose Wilmer because it would allow him to have both a Denver-based and national white-collar and government investigations practice. He added that he wanted to help Wilmer grow an office founded in 2013 by partner Kenneth Salazar, the former junior U.S. senator from Colorado and ex-head of the U.S. Department of the Interior. Including Walsh, who started at Wilmer on Monday, the Denver office currently has 15 lawyers, according to the firm’s website.
“[Wilmer] is very committed to developing the Denver market, and has made a real effort to bring in some outstanding people,” said Walsh, noting the firm’s addition of partners like Salazar, Andrew Spielman and Natalie Hanlon Leh, the latter two having joined the firm in 2015. “I was excited by that, very excited by that. And by the opportunity to work on building a Denver practice while connecting with Wilmer’s tremendous offices in [Washington, D.C.], Palo Alto, Los Angeles and elsewhere.”
A Denver native, Walsh graduated from Stanford Law School in 1986 and served as an assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles from 1987 to 1995, working as chief of the major frauds section his last two years there.
Walsh went into private practice in 1995 at Holland & Hart’s Denver office, where he was a partner until leaving in 1999 for a local litigation boutique, Hill & Robbins. He remained at the firm until becoming the U.S. Attorney for Colorado in 2010. Walsh said he wanted to return to Big Law to take advantage of the national exposure he gained while working for the government.
One of his most prominent roles came in the aftermath of the financial crisis, when Walsh served as co-chair of the Justice Department’s Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group, helping to bring cases against banks for their role in the 2008 mortgage crisis and ensuing recession. Perhaps most notably, in 2014 that group secured a $7 billion settlement with Citigroup Inc. over claims that the financial services giant misled investors about mortgage-backed securities underpinned by shoddy loans. At the time it was the largest civil penalty ever obtained by the federal government.
Still, the Justice Department’s response to the financial crisis faced criticism that not enough individuals faced prosecution for their roles in the abrupt economic downturn. Walsh said the Yates Memo issued by U.S. deputy attorney general Sally Yates recommitted the government to the idea that individuals should be held accountable for wrongful acts committed inside a company. He also defended the Justice Department’s work in the wake of the mortgage crisis.
“You bring the cases that the evidence supports, and all of these cases were investigated exhaustively by really highly professional and dedicated people who at the end of the day made judgment calls about what the evidence was and what it wasn’t,” Walsh said. “We don’t prosecute people criminally just for the sake of bringing those charges. The department does it when the evidence supports it.”
Walsh’s work out of the U.S. attorney’s office in Colorado received praise from Main Justice when he left in August of last year with a release calling the office “one of the premier affirmative civil enforcement offices in the country.”
“U.S. Attorney John Walsh has served the people of the District of Colorado and the entire nation with extraordinary distinction,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said at the time. “For the past six years, John has protected our civil liberties, defended our national security, and aggressively and successfully prosecuted organized crime, drug cartels and gang violence.”
As for Wilmer, Walsh is the firm’s latest hire from public services. Besides him and Mayorkas, Wilmer also recently recruited Rachel Jacobson, deputy general counsel of environment, energy and installations at the U.S. Department of Defense, as special counsel in Washington, D.C. In October, Wilmer welcomed Lorraine Echavarria, a former associate regional director of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Los Angeles office and its local head of enforcement, as a partner in the city.