Reno, first fe­male at­tor­ney gen­eral, dies at age 78

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By JANE BELLMYER By TIMOTHY M. PHELPS

jbellmyer@ce­cil­whig.com

— Dozens of items that Cecil County law en­force­ment be­lieve to be stolen prop­erty will be on dis­play Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon in hopes of find­ing the owner.

Lt. Michael Holmes, Cecil County Sher­iff’s Of­fice spokesman, said the col­lec­tion is the re­sult of in­ves­ti­ga­tions by both sher­iff’s of­fice and Mary­land State Po­lice.

“We worked to­gether dur­ing search war­rants,” he said. “These were war­rants ex­e­cuted by both agen­cies.”

1st Sgt. Adam Howard, as­sis­tant com­man­der of the Mary­land State Po­lice North East bar­rack, said as many as 75 items seized in the past 60 days will be set up from 1 to 4 p.m. in the garage be­hind the bar­rack on Route 40 in North East.

“There are power tools, lots of power tools, bi­cy­cles, elec­tron­ics,” Howard said Tues­day. “We be­lieve they are stolen but they are not in the sys­tem.”

Holmes said sadly, many theft vic­tims — for what­ever rea­son — do not re­port stolen prop­erty.

“It makes it hard to in­ves­ti­gate and find the own­ers,” Holmes said. “We did match some of the items, but this is left­over.”

Any­one want­ing to claim an item must have a bill of sale, re­ceipt or other proof of own­er­ship, Howard said. That could also be some iden­ti­fy­ing mark only the the le­gal owner would know, such as ini­tials or other mark­ings. Of course, any­one who filed a po­lice re­port should bring that pa­per­work.

Any item not claimed Wed­nes­day will be handed back to the per­son from whom it was taken dur­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“If that per­son doesn’t want them, then they go to the state for auc­tion,” Howard said.

NORTH EAST

Tri­bune Wash­ing­ton Bureau

— Janet Reno, whose un­usu­ally long ten­ure as the United States’ first fe­male at­tor­ney gen­eral be­gan with a dis­as­trous as­sault on cultists in Texas and ended af­ter the dra­matic raid that re­turned Elian Gon­za­les to his Cuban fa­ther, has died af­ter a years-long strug­gle with the de­bil­i­ta­tion of Parkin­son’s dis­ease. She was 78.

Her god­daugh­ter Gabrielle D’Alem­berte said Reno spent her fi­nal days at home in Mi­ami sur­rounded by fam­ily and friends, ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­ated Press.

When Reno ar­rived in Wash­ing­ton in 1993 as Pres­i­dent Clin­ton’s third choice for the job, she cut an un­usual fig­ure for the na­tion’s top law en­force­ment of­fi­cial, not only be­cause of her sex.

She was tall (nearly 6-foot2), sin­gle and brought with her a some­what mythic rep­u­ta­tion as a woman who had wres­tled al­li­ga­tors while grow­ing up in ru­ral south Florida and as a tough prose­cu­tor in Mi­ami who wres­tled with mob­sters and drug deal­ers.

Within a few weeks she made what she ac­knowl­edged was a deadly blun­der, ap­prov­ing an FBI as­sault on a cult com­pound in Waco, Texas, that led to the death of about 80 chil­dren, women and men.

The dis­as­ter could have sent her pack­ing, but the fact that she forthrightly took the blame (“I’m ac­count­able. The buck stops with me.”) in­stead es­tab­lished her in the pub­lic mind as the rare po­lit­i­cal fig­ure who ac­cepted re­spon­si­bil­ity for her ac­tions.

“Peo­ple re­ally liked Janet Reno,” said Carl Stern, a for­mer net­work news cor­re­spon­dent who served as her spokesman. “Peo­ple judged her to be au­then­tic and sin­cere and work­ing in their ser­vice.”

Her blunt, no-non­sense de­meanor stood her well in pub­lic opin­ion polls through much of her nearly eightyear stint in the job, even as she in­creas­ingly got caught in the po­lit­i­cal cross­fire be­tween Repub­li­cans and Democrats over de­mands to in­ves­ti­gate the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion.

She ap­pointed seven spe­cial pros­e­cu­tors to in­ves­ti­gate as­pects of the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion, in­clud­ing the White­wa­ter real es­tate deal, Sec­re­tary of Agri­cul­ture Mike Espy and Hous­ing Sec­re­tary Henry Cis­neros, earn­ing her in­creas­ing en­mity from the Clin­tons. But she re­fused to ap­point, over the ob­jec­tions of the FBI, an eighth spe­cial prose­cu­tor to look into cam­paign fi­nance vi­o­la­tions by Clin­ton and Vice Pres­i­dent Al Gore in 1996. Repub­li­cans in Congress de­manded her res­ig­na­tion, say­ing she had politi­cized her of­fice, and con­tin­ued their at­tacks un­til she left Wash­ing­ton with Clin­ton in Jan­uary 2001. Only one other per­son had served longer in the job.

Frances Fra­gos Townsend, a Repub­li­can who worked in the Jus­tice De­part­ment un­der Reno and went on to be home­land se­cu­rity ad­viser to Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, said the im­pres­sion that Reno was a po­lit­i­cally po­lar­iz­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral was a fic­tion cre­ated by her Repub­li­can op­po­nents and the media.

“They cre­ated this story around her,” Townsend said. It was a “car­i­ca­ture and in­ac­cu­rate … it’s just not who she was. She was very down to earth and sim­ple in the sense that what drove her was the facts.”

A year af­ter re­turn­ing to Mi­ami, where she was born on July 21, 1938, Reno made an at­tempt to re­turn to pub­lic life, de­spite hands that by then were shak­ing badly due to the Parkin­son’s dis­ease. She ran un­suc­cess­fully for the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion to op­pose Repub­li­can Jeb Bush for gover­nor, los­ing a 30-point lead in the polls in just two months, then left the stage for good.

Reno had no mid­dle name, ac­cord­ing to the Palm Beach Post, be­cause her mother said she was too ex­hausted from la­bor to come up with

WASH­ING­TON

one. Her par­ents were re­porters in Mi­ami, and her mother, by all ac­counts, was a swash­buck­ling ec­cen­tric who taught her daugh­ter to speak her mind.

Her mother, Jane Wood Reno, built the fam­ily house her­self in what then was a ru­ral sub­urb of Mi­ami, orig­i­nally on 21 acres with a barn, cows and other farm an­i­mals not far re­moved from the Ever­glades. It was her mother who was known for wrestling al­li­ga­tors, though Janet said she could han­dle “the lit­tle ones.” Janet re­turned to the fam­ily home from Wash­ing­ton to spend the rest of her life.

Reno stud­ied chem­istry at Cor­nell Uni­ver­sity, where she did well enough to be ac­cepted at Har­vard Law School af­ter flirt­ing with the idea of be­com­ing a doc­tor. She grad­u­ated from Har­vard in 1963. Af­ter nine years in pri­vate prac­tice in Mi­ami, start­ing in real es­tate law, Reno moved to Tal­la­has­see, the state cap­i­tal, to be­come gen­eral coun­sel to the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee. She is cred­ited with writ­ing the state’s no-fault divorce law and over­see­ing a com­pre­hen­sive re­or­ga­ni­za­tion of the state’s court sys­tem.

She ran for state rep­re­sen­ta­tive in 1971, win­ning the pri­mary but nar­rowly los­ing the gen­eral elec­tion.

Af­ter a stint in the Dade County state at­tor­ney’s of­fice and a re­turn to pri­vate prac­tice, she was ap­pointed to the top prose­cu­tor’s job in Mi­ami in 1978, serv­ing for 15 years. She re­peat­edly won re-elec­tion to keep that job de­spite pre­sid­ing over a sharply es­ca­lat­ing mur­der rate and drug trade and crit­i­cism from the lo­cal pa­pers that she was more of an ad­min­is­tra­tor than a court­room lawyer.

She also had to over­come a pros­e­cu­to­rial dis­as­ter early in her ten­ure. When her of­fice failed to con­vict four white po­lice of­fi­cers who were charged with beat­ing to death a black in­sur­ance ex­ec­u­tive, ri­ots broke out in Mi­ami, killing 16 peo­ple over four days, with more than 1,000 ar­rests. She found her­self alien­ated from her black con­stituents, but won them back through re­peated vis­its to black churches and neigh­bor­hoods.

Un­der pres­sure to name a woman to the at­tor­ney gen­eral post, Clin­ton turned to Janet Reno only af­ter his first two choices for the job, Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood, with­drew be­cause they had both em­ployed nan­nies who were il­le­gal im­mi­grants. Reno had am­ple qual­i­fi­ca­tions, and she was child­less and there­fore had no nanny prob­lems.

Even some close in­sid­ers were crit­i­cal of her man­age­ment style as at­tor­ney gen­eral. She was a worka­holic who ar­rived at her of­fice at 7 a.m. (on foot, from her apart­ment 10 min­utes away) and of­ten stayed un­til late at night. But at least ini­tially, she re­fused to del­e­gate author­ity, which in a de­part­ment with 95,000 em­ploy­ees could be dis­as­trous. She also was crit­i­cized for not pri­or­i­tiz­ing the in­ces­sant lists she de­manded ac­tion on, and some­times for not act­ing quickly her­self on rec­om­men­da­tions.

Le­gal is­sues sur­round­ing chil­dren were a ma­jor fo­cus of the new at­tor­ney gen­eral, so much so that it en­gen­dered some snip­ing within the Jus­tice De­part­ment that she was the at­tor­ney gen­eral for chil­dren. Though at­tor­neys gen­eral before and af­ter her fo­cused on such top­ics as or­ga­nized crime or pornog­ra­phy, Reno liked to talk about push­ing chil­dren out of poverty and pro­grams to steer teenagers away from vi­o­lence, as well as broader is­sues such as pre­ven­tion and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and cre­at­ing em­pow­er­ment zones in the in­ner city.

It may have been con­cern for chil­dren that got her in trou­ble in Waco, be­cause the FBI told Reno, who had re­fused to au­tho­rize an at­tack on the Branch Da­vid­ian com­pound there, that they needed to use force in part be­cause chil­dren were be­ing abused. That turned out to be false, and the at­tack re­sulted in the death of 25 of the chil­dren she had wanted to pro­tect.

An­other as­sault in­volv­ing a child, this one suc­cess­ful but equally con­tro­ver­sial, de­fined the end of her ten­ure as Waco de­fined the be­gin­ning. Reno or­dered 6-year-old Elian Gon­za­lez, whose mother drowned as they tried to reach Florida from Cuba, forcibly re­moved from cousins in Mi­ami and re­turned to his fa­ther in Cuba. Though the move was pop­u­lar na­tion­ally, it was re­viled in the city to which Reno was about to re­turn.

Also on the list of Reno’s ac­com­plish­ments, though very much out of sync with her rhetoric, was pas­sage of the get-tough-on-crime 1994 crime bill. Though largely a Clin­ton ini­tia­tive, Reno lob­bied for it and helped per­suade some lib­er­als to back it, in part by promis­ing tough stan­dards in death penalty cases. It funded 100,000 new lo­cal po­lice of­fi­cers, greatly ex­panded the fed­eral death penalty, pro­vided funds to in­ves­ti­gate vi­o­lence against women and banned cer­tain as­sault weapons.

But one of Reno’s great­est ac­com­plish­ments may have been the tone she set as at­tor­ney gen­eral. She fash­ioned her­self af­ter one of her pre­de­ces­sors, Robert F. Kennedy, whose por­trait hung in her pri­vate of­fice.

“She was the quin­tes­sen­tial Amer­i­can ide­al­ist,” said Jeremy Travis, pres­i­dent of the John Jay Col­lege of Crim­i­nal Jus­tice in New York. Travis, who worked for Reno for six years at the Jus­tice De­part­ment, said she was nonethe­less prag­matic and fo­cused on re­sults. “She be­lieved that the coun­try was full of peo­ple with good ideas and that we could im­prove our so­ci­ety in im­por­tant ways and peo­ple of good will act­ing to­gether could make a no­tice­able dif­fer­ence” he said.

CHUCK KENNEDY/TNS

For­mer At­tor­ney Gen­eral Janet Reno tes­ti­fies before the 9/11 com­mis­sion on April 13, 2004, in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. Reno, the first woman to serve as at­tor­ney gen­eral, died af­ter a years-long strug­gle with Parkin­sons’s dis­ease. She was 78.

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