First fe­male at­tor­ney gen­eral, a ‘force’ in law

Baltimore Sun - - FROM PAGE ONE - By Stephanie Hanes

Janet Reno, the strong-minded Florida pros­e­cu­tor tapped by Bill Clin­ton to be­come the coun­try’s first fe­male U.S. at­tor­ney gen­eral, and who shaped the U.S. gov­ern­ment’s re­sponses to the largest le­gal crises of the 1990s, died Mon­day at her home in Mi­ami. She was 78.

The cause was com­pli­ca­tions from Parkin­son’s dis­ease, her god­daugh­ter, Gabrielle D’Alem­berte, told the As­so­ci­ated Press. Ms. Reno was di­ag­nosed with Parkin­son’s in 1995, while she was at­tor­ney gen­eral.

Ms. Reno brought a fierce in­de­pen­dence to her job. From the FBI siege of the Branch Da­vid­ian com­pound in Texas to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Clin­ton’s sex­ual re­la­tion­ship with in­tern Mon­ica Lewin­sky, she was adamant that her pros­e­cu­tors and agents work out­side the in­flu­ence of pol­i­tics, me­dia or pop­u­lar opin­ion.

Her sup­port­ers be­lieved she brought a height­ened level of in­tegrity and pro­fes­sion­al­ism to the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice. They ad­mired her in­sis­tence on le­gal ex­ac­ti­tude from her em­ploy­ees and praised her cau­tion in pros­e­cu­tions.

Ms. Reno re­sisted weeks of pres­sure to ar­rest Sheik Omar Ab­del Rah­man, wait­ing un­til she thought agents had suf­fi­cient le­gal jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to tie him to the 1993 World Trade Cen­ter bomb­ings. He was later con­victed.

“She was a very pow­er­ful force for law­ful­ness,” said Wal­ter E. Dellinger III, a Duke Univer­sity law pro­fes­sor who served as so­lic­i­tor gen­eral dur­ing Ms. Reno’s ten­ure. “She was al­ways chal­leng­ing to make sure there was a sound le­gal ba­sis for what peo­ple were do­ing. And she was adamant about sep­a­rat­ing the de­part­ment from pol­i­tics.”

Busi­ness lead­ers crit­i­cized her lengthy pros­e­cu­tion of Mi­crosoft on charges of anti-com­pet­i­tive vi­o­la­tions — a case that ul­ti­mately ended in a set­tle­ment un­der the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Civil lib­er­tar­i­ans took Ms. Reno to task for her han­dling of the es­pi­onage case against for­mer Los Alamos Na­tional Lab­o­ra­tory sci­en­tist Wen Ho Lee, who was held in soli­tary con­fine­ment for nine months af­ter be­ing charged with mis­han­dling nu­clear se­crets, only to be re­leased on a lesser charge.

Repub­li­cans crit­i­cized her bit­terly for what they saw as pan­der­ing to the Clin­ton White House — she re­fused, for in­stance, to launch an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion into whether Vice Pres­i­dent Al Gore il­le­gally raised funds from the White House dur­ing the 1996 Clin­ton-Gore re-elec­tion cam­paign. Democrats, mean­while, dis­par­aged her for aban­don­ing her po­lit­i­cal pa­trons. She said Hil­lary Clin­ton never for­gave her Janet Reno re­mained in of­fice longer than any other at­tor­ney gen­eral of the 20th cen­tury. for au­tho­riz­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Lewin­sky af­fair.

Ms. Reno re­mained in of­fice longer than any other at­tor­ney gen­eral of the 20th cen­tury, and won high marks out­side the cap­i­tal for her plain-spo­ken man­ner and folksi­ness: her pref­er­ence for kayak­ing on the Po­tomac River over hob­nob­bing on Wash­ing­ton’s cock­tail cir­cuit; her oft-told child­hood sto­ries from the Ever­glades, with a mother who wres­tled al­li­ga­tors; and her home in Florida with a fam­ily of pea­cocks, all named Ho­race.

A self-de­scribed “awk­ward old maid” who stood nearly 6 foot 2, Ms. Reno showed a will­ing­ness to lam­poon her im­age. She joined ac­tor Will Fer­rell on NBC’s “Satur­day Night Live” as he played a wooden ver­sion of her in a skit called “Janet Reno’s Dance Party.”

She was Bill Clin­ton’s third pick for at­tor­ney gen­eral. He had promised to nom­i­nate a woman for the post, but his first two choices — cor­po­rate lawyer Zoe Baird and New York fed­eral Judge Kimba Wood — with­drew af­ter al­le­ga­tions that they hired il­le­gal im­mi­grants as nan­nies.

Ms. Reno, who had no chil­dren and there­fore no nanny is­sues, came to the pres­i­dent’s at­ten­tion through his broth­erin-law Hugh Rod­ham, a pub­lic de­fender in Dade County and an ad­mirer of Reno.

Janet Wood Reno was born in Mi­ami on July 21, 1938. Her fa­ther, Henry, spent more than 40 years as a po­lice re­porter for the Mi­ami Her­ald. Her mother, the for­mer Jane Wood, was an in­ves­tiga­tive re­porter for the now-de­funct Mi­ami News.

Ms. Reno grad­u­ated from Cor­nell Univer­sity in 1960 and in 1963 from Har­vard Law School, where she was one of a hand­ful of women in a class of more than 500.

CHUCK KENNEDY/TNS

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