The news that Connecticut U.S. Attorney David Fein will step down from his post on May 13, after three years on the job, drew a range of reactions.
He won praise from a number of private attorneys for his reorganization of the office, his cooperation with other law enforcement agencies, his focus on financial crimes and his visibility in the legal community. He also was criticized by a handful of defense attorneys for what they felt was an unnecessarily draconian approach to arresting suspects.
And at least one law firm marketing consultant predicted that Fein, a former Wiggin and Dana partner, would be in demand once again in the private legal sector. Peter Giuilani, a Weston-based law consultant, said alumni of U.S. Attorney’s offices are usually highly prized in defense practices. "They’ve seen the prosecutorial side, and so they know where the chinks in the armor lie," Giuliani said.
In an interview, Fein said on was still considering his next step.
"It’s the right time for me to move on now," said Fein, who announced his resignation May 30. "What prompted this is a couple opportunities I was approached about that were of particular interest to me and my family. I’m more comfortable pursuing those when I’m not holding the position."
Fein said he would take a "couple of months to explore" future job possibilities.
No immediate successor was named to the position, which oversees 64 assistant U.S. attorneys and 45 staff members in offices in Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford. A committee formed by Connecticut’s two U.S. senators suggested Fein in 2010, but the final choice lies with President Barack Obama.
There was speculation in the legal community that Deputy U.S. Attorney Deidre M. Daly would become the interim U.S. Attorney. Before joining Fein’s staff in July 2010, Daly served for 12 years as an assistant U.S. attorney in the New York City-based Southern District of New York office.
At least one prominent defense attorney suggested that current members of the leadership of the Connecticut U.S. Attorney’s Office be considered for the job. "I’ve always been a firm believer of promoting from within, and there are several in that office who would make fine appointees," said Richard Brown, of Hartford’s Brown, Paindiris & Scott. "Maybe it’s time to take the politics out of it and appoint someone in the office who’s established themselves."
What qualities should Fein’s successor have? "The use of prosecutorial discretion should be stressed, said Brown. "Some prosecutions are better left to the state. Borderline cases can be handled on the civil side, if a felony conviction and jail time really isn’t justified. We have limited resources, and the use of discretion ultimately benefits everyone."
Brown said he was surprised that Fein was leaving the post after only three years.
"He seemed to have the ship running on a steady course, and there wasn’t any controversy in his office that I was aware of," Brown said. "He was known for white collar crime, child pornography, and the never-ending battle of drug cases. You can’t go by a week without someone pleading guilty for child pornography. Maybe they’re getting more efficient."
Fein said highlights of his tenure include the many collaborative efforts with other state and federal agencies. He hopes that sort of cooperation will continue for years to come.
In recent years, prosecuting white collar crime has been an emphasis, resulting in the formation of the Connecticut Securities, Commodities and Investor Fraud Task Force, which investigates matters relating to insider trading, market manipulation, Ponzi schemes, investor fraud, financial statement fraud and embezzlement.
The task force includes the FBI, Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as the Connecticut Chief State’s Attorney’s Office and the Stamford and Greenwich police departments. "We’ve got tremendous relationships with our law enforcement partners and value that very much and I will miss that," said Fein, a former assistant U.S. attorney in New York who also served in the Clinton White House.
The FBI’s top official in the state, Kim Mertz, had the same sort of praise for Fein. "I think from his first day he established and held a standard of excellence across the board," Mertz told the Connecticut Post. "He will be missed and he has had a very significant impact on the law-enforcement community in Connecticut."
Fein is also proud of Project Longevity, a federal initiative launched last year that combines a crackdown on gun and gang violence with efforts to steer at-risk youths to community and social programs that might thelp them avoid a life of crime. Fein’s boss, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder came to the state last fall to announce the program, which debuted in New Haven and will soon be expanded to Hartford and Bridgeport.
Fein also mentioned civil rights cases his office brought during his tenure, including the recently negotiated settlement with East Haven for alleged racial profiling and other civil rights abuses of Hispanic residents.
Fein made child exploitation cases, including child pornography, an emphasis as well. He personally prosecuted three such cases. One of those defendants, William Oehne, was sentenced to 45 years in prison in 2011 for sexually abusing an 8-year-old girl and distributing photos on the Internet. In another case Fenin handled, Edgardo Sensi was sentenced to 85 years in prison for sexual abusing minor girls in the United States and Nicaragua.
Several Connecticut defense attorneys offered criticism of Fein’s office, saying he adopted aggressive policies that might have better suited to the rough and tumble landscape of New York City than with the more collegial Connecticut bar. Not all those attorneys would speak for the record, though two did — Norm Pattis of Bethany (see column on page 30) and William Dow III of New Haven.
"He treated Connecticut as if it were a kind of junior varsity version of the Southern District of New York," Dow said. "There was a change of the culture of the office under David Fein.
Asked for examples, Dow said that under previous U.S. Attorneys, people wanted for non-violent crimes were allowed to turn themselves in. Dow and Pattis both said that, under Fein, a suspect might be arrested any time of the day or night by a swarm of FBI agents. Not only did that approach ratchet up the tension between defense lawyers and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, but, Dow said, the practice made it difficult for defense attorneys to buld trust with their clients. "You had to tell them, ‘I can’t tell you whether you’ll be arrested or not,’" Dow said.
Other members of the bar were far more complimentary.
James Glasser, who chairs the litigation department at Wiggin and Dana, has encountered Fein as both a law partner and an adversary. The first time was about 10 years ago, when Glasser was a federal prosecutor and Fein was a partner in the White Collar Defense, Investigations and Corporate Compliance practice group at Wiggin and Dana. Then, starting in 2008, they worked together defending clients in white collar criminal cases at Wiggin and Dana.
When Fein was appointed as Connecticut’s 50th United States Attorney in May 2010, the law partners became adversaries again. "He’s very smart, he’s an indefatigable worker," Glasser said. "He’s very detail oriented. He’s an extraordinary lawyer and an extraordinary talent."
Glasser said Fein made sweeping structural changes to the office. "After spending time learning about the office and meeting each assistant U.S. attorney individually, David changed the structure of the criminal division from a geographic-based structure to a program-based structure," Glasser said. Now the assistant U.S. attorneys are part of units, such as National Security, Major Crimes, Violent Crimes, Narcotics, and Financial Fraud and Public Corruption. "He put a new focus on white collar criminal matters without sacrificing attention to violent crimes and drug cases."
Ross Garber, co-chair of the Government Investigations and White Collar Crime Group at Shipman & Goodwin, said what distinguished Fein from other top federal prosecutors was his visibility. "He spent a substantial amount of time visiting and giving talks to a variety of organizations, from bar associations to community groups. He met with these groups to tell people about the priorities of the office and how he was intending to approach investigations."
Garber also said Fein focused on aggressively pursuing the types of criminal cases — from mortgage fraud to child pornography — in which vulnerable people were victimized. "It seems that during his tenure, he took a very hands-on approach to the office," said Garber. "He was clearly very sophisticated about federal criminal investigations and prosecutions."•
Law Tribune Managing Editor Jay Stapleton contributed to this article.