In an unusual move, Jim Durham, formerly the top prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia, has joined a plaintiffs firm. Durham will become a name partner at Savannah’s Savage, Turner, Durham, Pinckney & Savage on Monday.
Durham became the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District in March, replacing Ed Tarver, who was one of the 46 U.S. attorneys asked to depart their posts by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Durham had held the title of first assistant U.S. attorney for the office since 2010.
“I loved every minute that I spent in the U.S. attorney’s office prosecuting cases, then leading the office,” Durham said.
Durham, 49, said he’s entertained offers to go into private practice before, but now, with two kids in college and 15 years as a federal prosecutor under his belt, “the timing was right for me.”
“I’m proud of what we accomplished in the office, and I’m ready for a new challenge,” he said.
Before becoming a federal prosecutor in 2002, Durham spent the first seven years of his career at Atlanta white-collar criminal defense and civil litigation boutique Chilivis, Cochran, Larkins & Bever.
He said he thought he’d return to Atlanta, but then he got a call from Brent Savage in Savannah. “I had not considered plaintiffs work, but then I realized there are lots of similarities between big fraud cases and big-time plaintiffs work,” he said.
Durham called Savage and his law partner Bart Turner the “quiet giants in the plaintiffs arena,” who take on “some of the biggest and most complex plaintiffs cases in the state.” He will be handling catastrophic injury and business torts at Savage Turner.
“Our practice is designed to help businesses and people overcome tough, complicated problems,” Savage said in a statement. “Jim Durham has spent his entire career doing just that at the most elite level. He gets results.”
Typically, former federal prosecutors join large corporate firms, Durham noted, “but one of the things that was so appealing is they go to trial a lot [at Savage Turner]. I enjoy trying cases.”
“I had a full caseload as first assistant chief. It’s a small enough office that that’s possible,” he added. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District has 26 prosecutors on staff, compared with 90 for the Northern District.
One of Durham’s mentors, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, said he “represented the very best of the Department of Justice—skill, courage and an unrelenting dedication to the mission of the department. Not only is Jim a fantastic attorney, he has always demonstrated a special responsibility to seek justice.”
Durham tried some big cases in the Southern District over his 15-year tenure.
In a six-week trial for U.S. v. Bradley—the longest fraud trial in Southern District history—he won racketeering and money-laundering convictions against Martin Bradley Jr., Martin Bradley III and Bio-Med Plus for a massive medicine fraud scheme, securing $60 million in restitution from their forfeited yachts, car collections, vacation homes and other assets.
The father and son were accused of conspiring with the drug wholesaler to defraud Medicare, Medicaid programs and drug manufacturers by illicitly obtaining expensive blood-derivative medicines that are used to treat, hemophilia and cancer patients from black market sellers.
Durham, who was lead counsel, said he put up close to 100 witnesses and introduced 100,000 pages of records for the 2006 trial.
He prosecuted the largest scheme in the nation to defraud a federal food subsidy program in 2015, U.S. v. Sapp, winning guilty pleas during two trials from all 88 indicted individuals, including ringleaders Brandon and Kimberly Sapp, a married couple in Atlanta.
The Sapps and their co-conspirators set up close to 30 phony grocery stores around the state, Durham said, which paid cash for vouchers from the Georgia Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and food stamps programs at a fraction of their value, defrauding the programs of about $20 million.
“One neat thing as a result of our prosecutions is that Georgia WIC changed the way they do business to better detect fraud,” Durham said.
He also prosecuted Savannah police chief Willie Lovett in a high-profile case, winning convictions against Lovett in a 2014 trial for aiding and abetting a gambling operation, extortion and false statements. Lovett received a 7.5 year prison sentence.
After Durham resigned on Sept. 22, R. Brian Tanner, the Southern District office’s appellate chief, was named interim U.S. attorney.