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Voices -- Eric Holder, 1994

November 18, 2008 |  6:00 pm

AP photo

Eric Holder, deputy attorney general under Janet Reno and likely attorney general under President-elect Barack Obama.

Prosecutor Has Made Jury Study a Specialty

Wednesday June 1, 1994


WASHINGTON -- Although he says he wants his day in court, Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) may well meet his match if Eric H. Holder Jr., the prosecutor who obtained his indictment, chooses to try the case himself several months from now.

Holder, 43, the first black U.S. attorney in the nation's capital, is a tall, stately man with a polished courtroom manner and 18 years of experience in public corruption cases. He also has made a study of how to appeal to juries.

"He understands juries here and he certainly understands politicians," says a former colleague on the District of Columbia Superior Court, where Holder served five years before President Clinton appointed him as this city's top federal prosecutor last July.

A confident, easygoing man, Holder has said that he wants to develop a better relationship between his office of 300 attorneys, who are disproportionately white, and the predominantly black population of the district from which juries for his cases are drawn.

During his years as a judge, he said that he winced when he saw prosecutors lose trials that they should have won because they failed to relate to jurors.

Holder won the respect of his new colleagues when he took over the Rostenkowski investigation after his swearing-in last October. At the time, Jay B. Stephens, his Republican predecessor, criticized the Clinton White House for replacing him--at a time when it was replacing other U.S. attorneys across the country--in the midst of a highly sensitive investigation.

Rather than duck the criticism, Holder met it head-on. "The idea that a Democratic U.S. attorney is going to do something different than a Republican U.S. attorney is pretty close to ridiculous," he said. Instead of shortening or curtailing the inquiry, he decided to expand it by asking for the appointment of a new federal grand jury to replace the old jury, which faced expiration on Oct. 31, 1993.

Despite his short time as top prosecutor, Holder has had ample experience investigating public corruption. He spent a dozen years as a lawyer in the Justice Department's public integrity section, where he had a hand in the congressional bribery prosecution of former Rep. John W. Jenrette (D-S.C.).

"In some ways, I came in as prepared as I could have been because of my 12 years in public integrity," he told the Washington Post earlier this year. "I think potentially I'm a better U.S. attorney now than I was then, from being on the bench for five years and presiding over hundreds of criminal trials."

The son of a secretary and a real estate agent, Holder spent the summer of 1974 as a law clerk for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and the summer of 1975 as a law clerk in the Justice Department. He received his law degree in 1976 from Columbia University.

He has never been active in local politics, has never run for public office and has never played a role in anyone else's campaign, he told the Senate Judiciary Committee last year on the eve of his confirmation.

In describing the Rostenkowski charges to reporters, Holder said: "The vast majority of members of Congress are decent and honorable public officials who work incredibly hard and follow all the rules."

He quickly added, "But the criminal acts of a few feed the cynicism which increasingly haunts our political landscape."