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LAPD's Birotte likely choice for U.S. attorney, sources tell The Times [Updated]

October 28, 2009 |  5:02 pm

Andre Birotte, Jr. Asst Inspector GeneralAfter months of speculation about who President Obama will appoint as the new U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, there is growing consensus as to the most likely nominee: Andre Birotte Jr., currently the LAPD’s inspector general.

Neither the White House nor the California senator who nominates candidates to the president would comment. But people who have worked closely with Birotte have been interviewed by FBI agents conducting background checks on the 43-year-old attorney, sources told The Times.

One of those interviewed was outgoing LAPD Chief William J. Bratton who said he has spoken with the FBI about Birotte on multiple occasions and presumes that he is the nominee.

“The inference I drew is that they’re doing the final vetting for him,” said another person, who confirmed being interviewed by the FBI but requested anonymity because of the confidentiality surrounding the selection process.

According to sources familiar with the  process, Birotte was one of three candidates interviewed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein in August. The other two were Brian J. Hennigan, a former federal prosecutor who is now a partner at Irell and Manella, and Michael J. Raphael, chief of the criminal appeals section in the U.S. attorney’s office.

Both Hennigan and Raphael have been notified that they are not the nominee, the sources said. Birotte declined to comment for this article.

[Updated at 5:06 p.m.: If appointed, Birotte, the son of Haitian immigrants, would be the first black man  to serve as the top federal prosecutor in Los Angeles.]

The U.S. attorney's position has been vacant since the September resignation of Thomas P. O’Brien, a career prosecutor who oversaw a massive increase in criminal filings and a wave of new hiring in the office. O’Brien’s aggressive approach to law enforcement made him extremely popular with local cops and federal agents but resulted in criticism by some within his own office over the perception that he had implemented a quota system.

For the last six years, Birotte has served as inspector general for the Los Angeles Police Commission, the civilian panel that oversees the LAPD. Birotte’s main job is conducting internal investigations so commissioners are better informed when making policy decisions or rulings on such issues as use of deadly force by officers.

The job frequently thrusts him into the middle of some of the department’s biggest controversies, including the televised beating of an unarmed car theft suspect and the melee in MacArthur Park that resulted in the discipline of more than a dozen officers. The job requires Birotte to both work with and be critical of the LAPD, a task he and all of his predecessors have found challenging.

Developer and former Police Commission President Rick Caruso, who appointed Birotte to the post, said he had the personality and the skill for the  job. “He didn’t unnecessarily [tick] a lot of people off, but he’s not a pushover either,” said Caruso, who led the commission from 2001 to 2005. “He’s got the right balance.”

Caruso said he lobbied Feinstein on Birotte’s behalf and thinks he would make an excellent U.S. attorney. “He’s not some guy that’s up there in an ivory tower opining on the law,” Caruso said. “He’s a very smart and talented lawyer, but he’s also a regular guy, and people respond to that.”

Before going to work for the Police Commission, Birotte was an assistant U.S. attorney in the Los Angeles office for nearly five years.

While there, he prosecuted frauds, bank robberies and narcotics cases, among others. He began his legal career as a public defender in Los Angeles. Birotte graduated from Tufts University with a degree in psychology in 1987 and Pepperdine University School of Law four years later. He lives in the San Fernando Valley with his wife and three children.

-- Scott Glover

Photo: Andre Birotte Jr. Credit: LAPD

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