June 22, 2005; July 14, 2005; September 9, 2005;
September 28, 2005; July 12, 2006; January 31, 2008
Transcript of Interview with Janet Reno (June 22, 2005; July 14, 2005;
Sept. 9, 2005; Sept. 28, 2005; July 12, 2006; Jan. 31, 2008),
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Women Trailblazers in the Law
Interviewer: Hilarie Bass
Dates of Interviews:
June 22, 2005
July 14, 2005
September 9, 2005
September 28, 2005
July 12, 2006
January 31, 2008
JANET RENO INTERVIEW – ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
JUNE 22, 2005
HB: Good morning Ms. Reno
JR: Good morning.
HB: My name is Hilarie Bass. We are here this morning on June 22, 2005 as
part of the American Bar Association Commission on Women Oral History
Project. We’ll be having a conversation today and over the next few interview
sessions about your life and your insights looking back at things you would like to
tell us. We’re going to start this morning with your early years and I thought
perhaps you could talk to us about growing up in Miami.
JR: Well, my parents did come to South Florida at different times; my father
came here in 1923 and got a job as a reporter on the Miami Herald and my
mother got here in 1925 as a 13 year old who thought Miami was dumb, dull and
flat until she went through the ’26 Hurricane on Miami Beach. She was in love
with it ever after that.
HB: Did she talk to you about what it was like to go through the hurricane on
Miami Beach in 1926?
JR: It was extraordinary because they really didn’t understand Hurricanes. In
1926 my mother’s family found themselves out in the middle of the storm on
Miami Beach because when the eye came through, they just walked out and
thought it was over and she told stories of how people shared, worked together
to get through it. My father was in the ’26 storm and was the first reporter ot
reach the Keys in 1935. They met in the 30’s. He was a very debonair older
reporter and she heard that he was going crawfishing in the Keys and said, “take
me with you” and he said, “if you’ll be up at 4:30 in the morning, I’ll meet you at
the Coral Gables City Hall” and she was there at 4:30 and they went crawfishing
in the Keys. Crawfish, for those that are not aware of, they are our version of
Maine lobsters. That was our introduction to South Florida trips to the Keys to
scuba dive and to explore and to learn more about the Everglades. Both parents
encouraged us in that. We just started out in Coconut Gove. My father was
basically a farmer at heart and we moved from Coconut Grove down to South
Miami and out to Kendall Drive east of Krome Avenue.
HB: And that’s the location where you still live today.
HB: Now, stories about your mother are somewhat legendary. Why don’t you
tell us what she told you about what it was like to be a woman reporter back in
– 2 –
JR: Well, one of the stories that she remembers is being assigned to cover
Amelia Earhart’s departure from Opa Locka Airport on her way to the Cape May
trip around the world. She helped push the plane out and asked Amelia Earhart,
“why are you doing this, Miss Earhart?” “Just for fun. Just for fun.” Ms. Earhart
made a tremendous impression on her: her kindness, her joi de vivre, her
courage and mother always remembered that. She also worked for the FERA
(the Federal Emergency Relief Administration) and that, combined with her
reporting over the years, caused her to write a large number of articles exposing
problems in the Juvenile Justice Court System. She was a social worker at heart
and once gave a speech to the Florida Association of Social Workers calling
social workers “but little lower than the angels.” My mother was no angel; she
could storm and rage at what she thought were the wrongs of the world; she was
tremendously kind and loving; she was very loyal. She loved the English
language; she wrote some poetry and recited poetry by memory again and again.
And her love of the English language, I think, marks so much of her approach
both verbal and written – to issues that she confronted.
HB: I know that your mom built the house that you still live in today.
JR: When we moved out to Kendall, they bought 21 acres for $11,500 total
and we lived in a little wooden house on the property. We had to go to my
grandmother’s house in Coral Gables when a hurricane came because the little
– 3 –
wooden house wasn’t tied down. We were quickly outgrowing the house
because there were four children a year apart. One afternoon my mother
announced that she was going to build a bigger house because they couldn’t
afford to have someone else build it. And we said, “what do you know about
building a house?” and she said, “I’m going to learn.” She went to the brick
mason, the plumber and the electricians that she knew and she asked them how
you build a house. She’d gotten to know some of them through articles that she
did for Florida Living magazine on the “House of the Week.” She came home
from these conversations with these plumbers and electricians and dug the
foundation with her own hands with a pick and shovel, laid the block, put in the
wiring and the plumbing. My father helped her with the heavy work when he
came home from work at night.
It’s a wonderful house; it’s very rough but it’s beautifully done with – she
converted a piece of driftwood mahogany that was worm-eaten into a beautifully
finished mahogany mantle piece that reflects beautifully against an old brick
chimney that she discovered in a burned down house and bought the remaining
bricks from the owner. That house taught me a lesson that has been very
important to me: That you can do anything you really want to if it’s the right thing
to do and you put your mind to it. That house taught me another similarly
important lesson in August of 1992. My mother and I spent Hurricane Andrew in
the house and about 3:00 in the morning, my mother awakened as the winds
reached a terrible roar. She was terminally ill with lung cancer and she was frail
– but she got up from her bed, sat down in her chair, folded her hands and was
– 4 –
totally unafraid. She knew how she had built that house; she had not cut
corners; she had used the right material; she built it the right way. And when we
came out the next morning, the world looked like a World War I battlefield, but
that house had only lost one shingle and some screens. But my mother didn’t
encourage me as much as you might think because when I was 14, I told her that
I wanted to be a lawyer. She had recently helped my grandfather in his legal
practice when he had been hospitalized for an illness. She came away from that
experience with not much regard for the lawyers that she had been in touch with
and that caused her to really try to throw a wet blanket on my aspirations to be a
lawyer. So I decided to major in Chemistry because I wanted to be a doctor if I
wasn’t going to be a lawyer.
HB: What, do you think, at age 14, made you think about being a lawyer?
JR: My mother and father were really the ones that encouraged me. My
mother and fa~her told me what Joseph McCarthy was about and how important
it was to see what Mr. Welch was doing and to follow it and to understand how
he was using the law. How important it was that people speak out and that their
rights not be impaired without due process of law. She and my father
encouraged us to read history and to appreciate history. We followed the events
of Brown v. Board of Education and being a lawyer seemed to me to be a
person who could reach out and take problems that existed in the community, the
– 5 –
wrongs that existed in a community, and use the law to be a problem solver to
work out solutions for these problems and to correct these wrongs.
HB: Now, your grandfather was a lawyer, correct? And did you observe his
actions as a lawyer while you were growing up?
JR: My grandfather was a lawyer, but you probably shouldn’t observe his
actions. He was a brilliant man who wrote the life of Christ during the Depression
when he didn’t have many clients. He had a good way with words, but he was
very cryptic in his communication; he didn’t talk very much and in those days
they filed long complaints, whether it would be for divorce or a quiet title suit.
Nobody could figure out how George Wood could get a complaint filed and have
it sustained with a one page complaint. And I talked to one man once who
worked with the Clerk’s office who said, “I stayed late one night to go over
George Wood’s complaints to see just what he did and it was just the most
beautiful drafting; sparse, but everything was in it.” He was a very successful
lawyer in Macon, GA. When the Depression hit Macon, really before it hit Miami,
he lost everything in Macon. I think that took the wind out of his sails. He came
to Miami and it was a hard go for them during the Depression. My mother
remembers people sharing a can of tuna fish. I think he never got a chance to
see what the law can do because he had all the obligations of putting food on the
table; it was a difficult time.
– 6 –
HB: Tell us about your father.
JR: He came to this country when he was 12 years old from Denmark. My
grandfather had come to this country when he was a 19 year old and worked as
a lumberjack in the forest in the Northwestern part of the country. He returned to
Denmark and married the lady he loved, explaining that they were coming back
to the United States. Any children they had would have to have a first name that
traveled in English speaking world and then they could have a Danish middle
name. So his name was Marius Rasmussen and he changed his name to Robert
Marius· Reno. We don’t know where he got Reno; there’s speculation. My father
was Henry Olaf Rasmussen and he changed his name to Henry 0. Reno when
he was twelve years old and they arrived in Racine, Wisconsin. People teased
him about his funny language and his funny clothes and he never forgot that and
it always made him so much ….. he was so kind to underdogs, to secretaries who
other people ignored. He bought them sweetheart roses and donuts and always
thought of the people that were often ignored by others. But despite these taunts
and teases, four years later he was the editor of the high school newspaper and
eventually wrote beautiful English for the Miami Herald for 43 years. He had two
years of animal husbandry at the University of Wisconsin because he really did
love animals. They came down to Bartow, Florida and it was in Bartow, Florida
that he first really felt at home in this country and got welcomed in this country.
Shortly thereafter, my grandfather got a job as chief photographer on the Herald
– 7 –
and the Herald needed a reporter and he said I’ve got a son who could be a
reporter for you and that started.
HB: What type of reporting did he do?
JR: Everything you can imagine, starting in about 1923. There are not going
be that many reporters. He covered hurricanes. He was the first reporter to
cover the 1928 hurricane on Lake Okochobee where so many people were killed.
He was one of the first reporters that covered the 1935 storm in lslamorada. He
covered the court houses, the police stations. I remember going to work with him
and going to the court house and hearing trials and being told that I had to leave
when they got to something that children shouldn’t …. and that was a wonderful
experience and encouraged me to pursue them all.
HB: What was it like growing up on this farm out in Kendall? I take it it was
miles away from anything else.
JR: The Everglades started about 1 /2 mile beyond us and we had ponies and
donkeys and cows; I learned to milk a cow because the Herald printers were
going on strike and the reporters were going to have to come in early and assist
in getting the paper out to meet the deadline. It was going to be Christmastime
when this happened and I wanted my father to be able to spend as much time as
possible with the family that Christmas morning and so I decided that I would
– 8 –
learn how to milk the cows so I could do it so that he would have more time with
us. I would do the milking after he left and I was a pretty good cow milker.
We planted an avocado grove. My mother and I had gone to Thomasville,
GA just as the war ended to pick up my grandmother, who had been visiting
friends, and it was the first time we didn’t have to worry about gas rationing. We
were coming back across the Tamiami Trail, stopped at one of those places that
sells cokes and other things and there was a sign there that said “peacock eggs,
$1/piece” and my mother bought two peacock eggs, brought them home and put
them under a duck. They hatched and from that have come a lot of peacocks
that run wild through the woods. It was wonderful because at times I can
remember backfiring as fires spread across the pine and Palmetto properties that
separated us from the surrounding areas. Sometimes the fires would come
roaring through and so we would have to backfire down the firebreak on the
eastern side of the property. It just seems so long ago now that its just a dim
memory, but it’s a vivid memory in some respects. We all tried our hand at
planting things; planting tomatoes; I raised calves. We occasionally had pigs.
The avocado grove did very well and we enjoyed it and added to it with plantings
here and there.
HB: Would you consider yourself a tomboy?
JR: I considered myself a tomboy because I loved the Brooklyn Dodgers and it
was before they had moved to Los Angeles. I loved the Dodgers because they
– 9 –
had Jackie Robinson as second baseman. I was also impressed with Don
Yukom, who was a very good African American pitcher. I went to my
grandmother’s to watched television because mother wouldn’t let a television in
the house because she said it contributed to mind-rot. So I went to my
grandmother’s house to watch television and it seemed so miraculous that they
could throw the ball from the pitcher’s mound across homeplate and get it across
home plate as often as they did. I was particularly impressed with Yukom and so
I designed a backboard of an old tin shed and drew a batter’s figure on the shed
and practiced throwing a baseball the length of the distance. Everybody thought
I was nuts and they can still remember the bang against the shed as I got it in
right. I loved to scuba dive and mother introduced us to that because, as a
reporter, she was one of the first people to learn about Jacques Cousteau’s
aqualung. We dived up and down the Keys and enjoyed that. I loved my ponies
and horses; we used to play Cowboys & Indians and desperados and we had a
HB: This was with your three brothers and sisters?
HB: And you were the oldest?
JR: That’s right.
– 10 –
HB: What was your relationship like with your sisters and brothers growing up?
JR: We were close; my brother Bob, the oldest brother, teased us
unmercifully. He was a terrible tease and we would sometimes gang up on him
and he would resist us with his tongue; I mean he could really … he was
extraordinary. But we have remained a close family. When you’re that far out
and there’s no way for people to come see you conveniently, at least kids your
age, and there are no kids around your age, you learn to exist with the family and
a lot of what we’ve done has been based on that upbringing.
HB: Now, where did you go to school, to elementary school and middle
JR: We went to Sunset Elementary school; we should have gone to Kendall
Elementary but mother felt that we were all established at Sunset and she
wanted to keep us there so daddy would drive us by school on his way into work
and mother would pick us up in the afternoon.
HB: At some point, you went to Coral Gables High School.
JR: · Yes. And one of the points I would go back to in terms of transportation –
I – one of the wonderful things that happened to me was getting a pony for
– 11 –
Christmas. It was a brown and white blue eyed pony that pulled a buggy at a
trot, never at a walk. We got him during the war and when we ran out of gas
rationing tickets, we would use the pony and buggy and we could crowd four kids
and two adults into the buggy if we needed to and that was great fun. I can
remember mother coming by Sunset Elementary picking us up after school and
everybody so excited about seeing Tony, and he never bit and he was always
kind except Tony taught me to take charge of a situation. At first when I would
get on him and he didn’t want to be ridden, he would take me up to the limb of a
tree and very slowly scrape me off. He took great care to make sure he didn’t
hurt me, but was emphatic that he was going to scrape me off so I would just fall
off and cry. My mother said, “you get on that pony and you show him who’s
boss.” I will always remember getting on the pony in between sniffles and taking
charge and holding the reins and giving him a kick in the ribs.
HB: Now, how old were you when you got Tony?
JR: I was five when I got Tony. And I was about six or seven when I
persuaded Tony who was boss and he was a wonderful addition. From Sunset
Elementary, I went to Ponce de Leon Junior High School.
HB: And how far was that from where you lived?
– 12 –
JR: It’s about 10 miles, I think, because it’s five miles to the house from US 1
so it would be US 1 into Ponce. At the corner of North Kendall Drive & US 1 was
a German prisoner of war camp and we were always – I can remember going by
there and seeing so many young men, even I knew they were awfully young to
be halfway around the world and in prison. They would be working and they
would seem just like other people who were free and who were able to … it didn’t
seem right. With all the news of the war, I do not remember Pearl Harbor, but I
remember Normandy and remember the atomic bomb and remember
Roosevelt’s death. We went to pick up daddy who was taking the bus home. As
we were waiting for his bus to come up, a man came over to mother and said,
“have you heard the President died?” I can still remember mother just sobbing –
I just couldn’t imagine that anybody that she had not met could mean that much –
but she taught us over the years just how much he meant to the country.
HB: I take it there was a lot of conversation in your house about politics.
JR: Yes, yes.
HB: What can you recall about that influence on you?
JR: Both parents were really involved in trying to understand the issues.
Mother, at first when she thought that Truman was going to be president, was
dismayed and she came to be one of his greatest admirers and I think conveyed
– 13 –
that feeling. I think we all share that feeling. But there were good discussions
and she and daddy were very good at showing us how the decisions made in
Washington could influence our lives and what could be done and how people
could make a difference and how important the Supreme Court was. My father
was more active in local government and we would carry signs for their favorites
for sheriff or for county commissioner and that was fun. One of the elections that
I remember was the Smathers – Pepper race – this is George Smathers and
Claude Pepper. I was so irate at Smathers because mother explained to us what
Smathers was trying to do to label Pepper as red and as a communist or
communist leaning person. One of the joys of my life was to grow up, to become
State Attorney and to be able to stand next to Claude Pepper and have him say,
“now Janet, you’re doing a good job. ” I saw him outlive so many people who just
wrote him off and what he did for this country and what he believed in.
HB: He was a very special person. It would appear that these discussions of
politics, one’s ability to change the government, and the way things were going
on, had a huge influence on what you wanted to do with your life?
JR: I suspect that there were a lot of people. Dixie Herlong Chastain, who
was one of the first 150 women lawyers, used to come out and sit under our rose
apple tree in the late ’40s. People would come out to give daddy hints for stories
and tips he could follow. Dixie Chastain knew my parents and she would
sometimes come along with some of the people who had tips, but she was most
– 14 –
interested in talking to my parents about the Juvenile court and what needed to
be done; she was not yet on the Juvenile court and when my mother forbid me to
be a lawyer, I said, “but Dixie Chastain is a lawyer and you like her, why can’t I
be a lawyer?”
HB: What did she say?
JR: She dismissed it and …. but I think Judge Chastain’s influence helped
bring her around but it was … it was clear that the stories I heard told…. the
issues that came up … hearing about people who suffered. My grandmother had
a wonderful lady who was her maid and we would take Cassie home to South
Miami to the African American community and Cassie had wonderful children
and she taught me so much about how to treat people with respect and how
never to put them down. She was one of the proudest, most sensitive people
that I have known. You could not imagine Cassie being hurt, couldn’t imagine
her being discriminated against – why would somebody do something like that
and that, I think was one of the things that impressed me about what Brown v.
Board of Education was doing, what is was all about, what the argument was
about. It made me think that the law can do something about these things –
that’s again why I wanted to be a lawyer.
HB: Did you see evidence of segregation growing up in Miami.
– 15 –
JR: Yes. I rode on buses where, before Rosa Parks took her stand, and I
asked why do they have to sit in the back of the bus, why can’t I sit in the back of
the bus? And my father would say, just, I’ll explain later. But I also saw when a
young white man was in the court as compared to a young black man, it was
clear that the Judge was treating them very differently and that seemed wrong.
But the other thing I think resulted from this experience was that I began to swear
that I would never be a prosecutor because I thought prosecutors were more
interested in securing convictions than seeking justice. I was influenced by what
Gene Miller had done it terms of Pitts and Lee as I grew older.
HB: Why don’t you talk about. I’m not sure that our listeners will understand
JR: Pitts and Lee were two African American gentlemen who lived in the
Panhandle and were accused of robbing a gas station as I recall. They had
always maintained their innocence. Gene Miller, a reporter for the Miami Herald
(whose memorial service is today) dug and dug and dug and became convinced
that they had not committed the crime. They were tried again and they were
convicted again. He wrote a book and sent the proof of the book to Ruben
Askew, asking that at least they be pardoned and they were. He was also
responsible for getting two other people exonerated. That was important to me
and influenced my further thinking. Mother did some work in that regard that was
interesting because she had some real concern for the Grand Jury. In Florida,
– 16 –
the Grand Jury has the power to indict; it also has the power to issue reports.
One grand jury issued a report concerning George Brautigan, the state attorney.
I don’t remember the details of the report, but it really accused without indicting,
without giving Brautigan a chance to clear his name. That again was one of the
things that influenced me – when people say, “well, you know, he must have
done it.” I ask, “where’s the evidence?” How important it is to have a case built
on evidence? I think one of the things that comes clear is you look at newspaper
reporters, both trying their best to say the truth. You look at the lawyers that I’ve
dealt with in my life – almost all of them with few, few exceptions – wanting the
truth. The truth is one of the most elusive things there is and I don’t think we do
enough education in terms of memory. When we go to school, unless we take a
psychology course, we’re not taught about the fallibility of memory, how memory
can play tricks. We learn with life. And I think we can improve our problem
solving abilities a great deal if we were better at being fact finders. And people
think the law is where the truth will ultimately come up but the law has got its own
rules and procedures for finding truth and labeling truth and its not the ordinary
man’s experience. A reporter is different from a lawyer; a housewife, who’s
never had any exposure, is different; each person can judge truth in an accurate
way in their mind. I think we need to do more as lawyers in that regard.
HB: Let’s talk about High School. Now, when you went to High School, you
had already decided to become a doctor because that was what your mother
wanted you to do.
– 17 –
JR: No, it was because I decided that if I couldn’t be a lawyer and problem
solve, I would be a doctor and problem solve. Mother had spent three years in
Greece with an Aunt and Uncle. The uncle was with the Rockefeller Foundation
and Malaria Control and was a public health doctor and that was my first
exposure to what public health can do. I’ve often said that educationally, if I had
it to do over again, I would have gotten a Masters in Public Health. When I’d
gotten my law degree knowing now and knowing then how much my uncle had
done. One of the points I should put in is just before I started high school, I
skipped the eighth grade at Ponce de Leon Junior high school because I went to
spend a year in Germany with my uncle who was with the Allied High
Commission Forces. He was a civil judge who had been in the military and had
left the military to become a High Commission Judge, handling cases that
involved American citizens. I rode circuit with him and lived in Regansburg and
he would go from Strausberg to Limberg to Pasau and I would sometimes ride
circuit with him. During one of those occasions, he took me past Dacau and told
me what happened there; it was before it really opened and became available for
people to visit. That night, I went home to Regansburg and talked to the adult
German friends that I had made, I was 13 at the time, and said, “how could you
have let that happen?” They said, “just stood by, just stood by.” And I’ve never
forgotten that. And so I came back to high school with that in mind and I think
that is what compelled me, in part, to tell my mother I wanted to be a lawyer.
I remember what it was. She was a reporter for the News at the time and
she got a call from Ernie Midler, who was Senator Kefauver’s counsel for the
– 18 –
Senate Investigative Committee. Both parents had kind of a regard for Kefauver
because they thought he was a decent fellow, but they sometimes worried that
he got a little over eager in his investigative committee. Mr. Midler told my
mother that he wanted to investigate the sale of black market babies by a
naturopath. He wanted her to pose as a woman who could not have children and
you and your husband want to adopt. My mother never wore a bra, but we got
her into a bra and into a phony diamond ring made of titanium and a big floppy
hat of my grandmother’s and a nice linen dress. Ernie Midler gave her his baby
blue Cadillac and she went off to buy babies for the Kefauver committee. There
was a front page story in the Miami News with her wearing a borrowed dress and
her phony diamond ring and driving a borrowed Cadillac, going to buy babies for
the Kefauver committee. She picked us up at Coral Gables High School later
that afternoon in the blue Cadillac and the floppy hat and that’s when I thought, if
she can do this then I can be a lawyer. That’s when I told her that I wanted to be
a lawyer and she said, “no.”
HB: Do you think she said no based only on the experience of her father and
JR: I think she said no on the basis … I think it’s one of the areas that we have
got to grapple with in terms of diversity in the profession and what we do. I meet
so many lawyers who had hopes of really being involved and changing things
and making a difference and then they just get into the drudge of billable hours;
they have a combined practice, they don’t expand the practice in pro bono
dimensions that would give them another slant on things and the law just
– 19 –
becomes a grind. She was worried that it would be that for me, but the law has
been very good to me and given me so many wonderful opportunities.
HB: Now, Coral Gables High School, I guess you would call it an Upper Middle
Class School – I expect people very different from those you had grown up with?
JR: No, because we all came – South Miami Elementary fed into it, so we had
the groups that we had been with in elementary school and I met up again with
people that I had known. One of my best friends in high school had been in first
grade with me at Sunset, but she lived in the Gables so she could go to a school
in the Gables.
My years at Coral Gables High School. .. I look back on them with friends
that are still good friends today. There I had my first exposure to clubs and
things like that. That’s where I think I learned to be more self-reliant, to make my
own way. Because I was 5’11” when I was 11 years old, was 6’1″ by the time I
was in high school, I was gawky. One of the things that I learned, though, is that
if you are nice to people, they will reciprocate. Nobody ever teased me,
everybody was very kind to me. The boys were my buddies, but I never dated.
You learn, or at least I learned, during that time how to get along looking for other
things. One of the most important lessons I learned, was when I took speech my
sophomore year, I think it was my sophomore year. We had a speech teacher
who had come out of the war and gone into the bingo business with his father-inlaw in Ohio. The Kefauver committee came to investigate. Mr. Dixon, who had
his Masters in something, took his Masters degree and came to South Florida,
stopped in West Palm Beach, laid it all out for them, said, this is the story, this is
– 20 –
what I did in Ohio, this is what is happening and he couldn’t get a job in West
Palm Beach. He came on to Miami and he went to the school personnel director
and she said, “Mr. Dixon anybody who would give up that for teaching must really
love teaching.” He was a wrestler and was built like a small compact wrestler.
He was a great speech teacher and so we learned extemporaneous speaking.
We won the state debate championship in my junior year and I won the
extemporaneous speaking championship in my junior year and then won the
state debate championship my senior year. But it would never have happened
without Mr. Dixon because after taking speech I was going to go on and take
Chemistry to prepare for Cornell. Dixon said, “Reno, you can sit in a lab for the
rest of your life or you can come out and do something worthwhile.” I took
exactly what he said to heart and chose speech as an elective and didn’t take
Chemistry, although I ultimately majored in Chemistry at Cornell. That man gave
me such self confidence.
I lost track of him when I graduated from Coral Gables High School. He
told us he was leaving the profession because his son had asthma and he
needed to make more money to take care of him and he was probably going
back to Ohio. I never heard from him, I thought for sure I would hear at some
point. I didn’t hear from him when I became Attorney General and then about
three or four years into my Administration, I got a letter saying you won’t
remember me and he enclosed his phone number. I called him and said, “what
do you mean I won’t remember you; I’ve been looking for you ever since.”
HB: Oh, that’s wonderful.
– 21 –
JR: And I was able to invite him to Washington with his lady friend and take
them to the Justice Building, have them as my guests and it was really wonderful
to be with him and tell him, thank you.
HB: That’s wonderful. Well, how did it make you feel to be in a state
competition winning first place for extemporaneous speaking? And do you
remember what you talked about?
JR: No. My mother always said that Janet could say a few thousand words
about anything based on her experiences with extemporaneous speaking.
HB: That’s great.
JR: She had a dim view of high school debaters. I think she saw it was an
artificial debate with people who switched sides and were not motivated by
passion about the underlying issues.
HB: Now I understand you went on to Nationals?
JR: Yes and then got eliminated second or third round. It was a wonderful
experience to go across the country. I flew from Miami to Albuquerque and then
Albuquerque to San Francisco. As we left Albuquerque, the plane went over the
Grand Canyon and the pilot banked the plane so that you could look down and
see the Grand Canyon. It was at sunset and it was just extraordinary. Then to
go to San Francisco and its not that I hadn’t been … I’d been to Germany, I’d
been to Rome. But seeing my country for the first time west of the Mississippi
was so exciting. It was a great experience to be on my own trying to compete.
Then, when I was done, I went down to Southern California to see my aunt and
– 22 –
then I took a bus trip back all across the country – which was a time I will never
HB: From Los Angeles to Miami? On a bus? How long did it take?
JR: Well, I went from Phoenix out to Denver and over to St. Louis and down
the Mississippi to New Orleans, which I explored on my own.
HB: How old were you at the time?
JR: I was a junior in high school.
HB: So, 16, 17. Did you have any fears about being on this bus trip?
JR: No. My mother and .grandmother had given me instructions. I have an
aunt who was in the women’s air force service pilot during WWII and she and her
friends were profound influences on me. When they disbanded, my aunt came
home to Miami and invited a bunch of them down to Miami. Some of them lived
here for some time and I still see them and keep in touch with them and go to
their reunions. My aunt had written a book called “We Were WASPs” and we
loved that book. We loved to have the ladies tell us stories about how they
towed targets and ferried bombers and how they lost radio contact as they were
going over the Donner Pass. I figured if these ladies at age 21 or 23 could get on
a bus and go to Sweetwater, Texas and help fight the war, I ought to be able to
go across country in a bus.
HB: And you survived it?
– 23 –
HB: How did you decide on Cornell as a place to go for College?
JR: I didn’t want to go to school in the south; I didn’t want to go to school in a
city. I had an uncle who had gone to Cornell undergrad, I had an uncle who had
gone to Cornell Medical school. The principal of our high school’s son had gone
to Cornell and had been killed because he worked as an ambulance driver and
somebody ran an intersection as he was coming through. It had always touched
us. One of the curious aspects of memory, though, I think one of the reasons it
got me interested in Cornell was I looked at the Saturday Evening Post All
American Football Team and saw a Cornellian with a beautiful light blue jersey
on – it was obviously a Columbia member of the All-American team. It took me
quite a while to understand “The Big Red”, but I finally got the colors right.
H B: Were you at all concerned about getting used to the cold?
JR: No, I was excited about that. But that was before I came back from
Christmas vacation to 24 degrees below zero for a week, without wind chill.
HB: You must have had to go out and buy all kinds of clothes.
JR: Maggy, my sister, said that she went to Swarthmore and had learned from
my experience that I never understood that you can get warm. All my clothes
were brought with Miami in mind, as opposed to Cornell. When I went to
– 24 –
Washington, I got more warm clothes and she was right that you can dress and
HB: How did you like living in Ithaca?
JR: I had a wonderful time in Ithaca. I waited tables to pay for my room and
board and then I closed up dormitories to do the same. That’s when people had
to check in and they couldn’t stay out; it was not co-ed. I loved Cornell because
it had land grant colleges, the College of Agriculture, the college of then called
Home Economics now called Human Ecology, the engineering school. I’ve never
been in a place that had such diversity and intelligent people. The conversations
were so good. Waiting tables was such an important thing for me to do. I will
never forget when I was elected President of Women’s Student Government.
In that position, it was my responsibility to escort Harry Truman to the
podium and introduce him. When he spoke to the student body and before the
speech that night, we had had dinner at the Cornell Hotel School. I sat with the
College President at one of the tables and Harry Truman and Francis Perkins,
who had been Roosevelt’s secretary of labor, sat down at the other end of the
table. I looked at them and it was wonderful; I had never worn such high black
heels in my life. And I had on a wonderful black dress and Harry Truman looked
up to me, I mean, he came about to my shoulder, and I told him how wonderful I
thought he was and he just beamed at me. But I introduced him that night and I
will never forget what one of my fellow waitresses told me the next day – “that I
– 25 –
saw you do that. And you can wait tables or introduce a President, both with
HB: Now were you in school on scholarship or were you …..
JR: I wasn’t on scholarship, but I had the waitress job. During my sophomore
year, I was living in an upper class dormitory in the main campus and I had a job
closing up the dormitory – which gave me room and board and a little bit more
money. The President of the dormitory was an officer in the administration, if you
will, and if she didn’t make her grades she had to resign the presidency. People
suggested that I run for it and I couldn’t do that if I didn’t have the job opportunity
and they thought it was be a conflict so they rounded up some scholarships and
some loan opportunities and some other things and we put it together and I was
able to serve as President of Women’s Student government as well.
HB: How did your parents afford to pay for you and your sister and two
brothers to attend college?
JR: The first 10 acres of the 21 acres, the first 10 or 11 acres were used to
build the house; they sold the next five acres to send us to college and my sister
got a national merit scholarship which alleviated almost any obligation for her.
My youngest brother dropped out after a year, so it worked out. With law school,
– 26 –
I was able to borrow a good deal and I was also able to get some work
HB: You ended up majoring in Chemistry after all?
HB: How did you enjoy the sciences?
JR: I loved the sciences. The reason I majored in chemistry is I had a
wonderful professor my freshman year; he was one of the best professors I’ve
ever had at anything, either in a university setting or otherwise. He made
Science come alive, you didn’t have to learn by rote. He taught that you had to
think out and solve problems as a chemist. I never found anybody like that in
chemistry after that, but I put so much time and effort into it and really loved it
going into my sophomore year. I had a chance to stop at my sister’s school
Swarthmore a number of years later and sat in on an organic chemistry course
and that man had the same ability with respect to organic chemistry. I never saw
the magic of it taught after that, but I’m glad I majored in Chemistry because it
gave me a perspective of the world I don’t think I would otherwise have.
– 27 –
HB: Now, you said you ran and were successful in achieving the Presidency of
the Women’s Student Government Association. Tell us about your decision to do
JR: I don’t remember what the issues were, but some of it had to do with
gracious living. But it was again the problem-solving. What I had seen from my
vantage point of closing up the dormitory, for the whole four years I could
practically get a waiting job each night substituting for somebody else. So I was
busy almost every night and yet I saw a different part of the university and the
Women’s Student Government really related to the presidential area. And I
found that I could have a voice and make a difference and make some changes
that made sense. I don’t even remember what they were.
HB: What was the percentage of women in the student population at the time
you went to Cornell?
JR: I don’t know.
HB: Did you have any issues being a woman at Cornell. Did you feel any
either sense of discomfort or prejudice or harassment by male students or male
JR: No. At Cornell and at Harvard Law School, I never found anybody …
nobody was ever mean to me.
– 28 –
HB: Now, while you were majoring in chemistry, at that point what was your
expectation of what you were going to do with your degree?
JR: I was going to go be a doctor, but the more I took constitutional law given
in the undergraduate college by Walter Burns (it was Government 241) and I
loved it, it was just great. I took Political Theory with Mario Anatti. It was just
wonderful. I had the chance to have a wonderful philosophy professor in my
freshman year and I knew I was going to go to law school. I came home at
Christmas time and asked my grandfather, “what law school should I go to? I’m
not going to get into Harvard; I’m going to try for the University of Florida and
then Columbia and if I have a choice between Florida and Columbia, which
should I go to?” And he said, “go to Harvard honey”, “Oh I can’t get into Harvard”
“Go to Harvard, honey.” I applied and scrounged together enough money
without asking mother for my application fee and for the LSATs. I hadn’t felt that
much would be riding on it, so I went to a movie the night before and took the
LSATs. I did extremely well on them and got into Harvard on the LSATs. I called
my mother that night when I got my Harvard acceptance to tell her that I was
accepted and that I was going somehow or another she whooped with joy and
said that she had always wanted to do it herself.
HB: Oh, that’s great. So, how did you pay for your Harvard Law School
– 29 –
JR: Borrowing it and, again, she and daddy shared an ability to do freelance
stories for magazines. The American Weekly is one of those that they wrote for
and they were very good at finding freelance opportunities that helped. What
they did for me was extraordinary.
HB: Did you take any trips during your college years to go to New York City
or. .. ?
JR: At Cornell, I used to love to go down to New York and I had a friend there
so there was someplace that I could stay. One of the moments that I most
remember was going to the Metropolitan Opera. I had learned to love the opera
in Germany. Regansburg was a small town, but Germany was so devoted to
opera that even a small town could have a good troope. I saw La Traviata for the
first time and fell in love with it when I went to Cornell, I came down to New York
one Friday night and got there late and went to the Met not knowing what to
expect and they said, “well, we have standing room only if you want that.” I said,
“that would be just fine.” I heard Vivaldi and Tosca and it was just magic, it was
extraordinary. Another time my sister came up from Swathmore and we met and
we decided to go down and take the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statute of
Liberty. We took the ferry across to Staten Island, came around and came back
and it was very early in the morning. We found a place to have a cup of coffee
and then we went through the Fulton Street Fish Market before it got all fancied
– 30 –
up. It was a marvelous place at 4:00 in the morning with more varieties of
seafood than I have ever seen.
HB: Did you develop any long-lasting friendships while you were at Cornell?
JR: That’s where my best friends are from. One was a person who lived
across the hall from me my freshman year and she has remained one of my
dearest friends. She’s the most conservative person I’ve ever met and the
friendship has survived that. My roommate my senior year remains a very good
friend and I keep in touch with others that really have been an important part of
HB: That’s wonderful. Is this a good stopping point?
JR: Yes, this is a good stopping point.
– 31 –
JANET RENO INTERVIEW PART II – JULY 14, 2005
HB: Good morning, Ms. Reno.
JR: Good morning.
HB: I am Hilarie Bass and this is our second taped interview for the oral history
project sponsored by the American Bar Assn. Commission on Women. Today is
July 14, 2005. When we last met, you talked about your life up to the time that
you graduated from Cornell and the excitement of being accepted to Harvard
Law School. Perhaps we could start this morning with you telling us what it was
like to go to Boston and attend Harvard Law School.
jR: Well, that was an exciting part of my life. I didn’t have any idea of what
Harvard Law School would be like. I had an idea that Boston could be a
wonderful city to go to school in and I began almost immediately exploring on
foot and with the MTA much of Boston. That was a great experience.
HB Where did you visit?
JR: I just walked all over. I would go to Faneuil Hall and explore and find the
little cemetery. I walked from Salem to Gloucester one time and camped out
overnight along the ocean.
HB How long a trip was it?
JR: It was all afternoon – on a Saturday afternoon and into the next morning. I
wondered at first — the law seemed so dry, I wondered what I’d gotten myself into
and slowly it became clear that I was in the right place as far as I was concerned
because it seemed to gain life. Paul Fruend was my Constitutional Law
Professor – he made it fascinating. One of the things I most remember is the
Dean of the law school at the time, Irwin Griswald, invited the 16 women out of
the class of 544 to dinner at his house. He and Mrs. Griswald made us feel very
welcome. The Dean was I think a curmudgeon, however, and he started by
saying: “you may wonder why I called you here all together, I want to make sure
that you’re comfortable in law school. I feel like I was responsible for admitting
women to Harvard Law School 12 years ago and did so because I didn’t want to
be accused of discriminating against anybody; but I don’t know what you’re going
to do with your law school education.”
Many years later, in 1993, at the American Law Institute luncheon I spoke at,
Dean Griswald was in the audience and I talked about how important mentors
had been to me in my legal career and I cited Dean Griswald as an example
because he and Mrs. Griswald kept in touch with me after I left law school and
they were always very encouraging and I told the story of the Dean’s dinner and I
said I hope that I demonstrated to you that I have done right by your law school
– 2 –
HB: Did you perceive that that was a view shared but a lot of Professors? That
they were admitting women but they weren’t quite sure why?
JR: I never found that even one of the professors in any way indicated any
different approach with respect to women. I had heard that there were other
professors in the law school that felt that way, but I never found anyone who in
any way indicated a problem.
HB: Was there a unique camaraderie among the 16 women out of over 500 in
JR: We kept in some touch and I have kept in touch with a number of the
people who were in the class, but not a particular camaraderie. I lived in the
back of the Methodist parsonage in a little kind of garret. My roommate was an
astronomer that worked for Sky and Telescope Magazine so we were somewhat
different. I might have been characterized as a loner, but I came to enjoy the law
school. One time on a Saturday morning our Contract Professor was asking us
about a case in which a drunken Indian had sold his oil interest at an abysmally
low price and the question somehow related to what did I think of the Court’s
ruling which upheld the drunken Indian’s right. I remember not having studied at
all, not being prepared at all, being very sleepy on a Saturday morning and I said,
“I’m sorry Professor Dawson, but I haven’t decided whether I’m a Goldwater
– 3 –
Republican or Stevensonian Democrat. The place just burst into this laughter
and Professor Dawson just looked at me, pulled on his mustache and went on.
That was the most embarrassing moment for me, I think, in my three years of law
HB: Did you typically work hard to prepare for your classes?
JR: I tried to be prepared.
HB: What were your favorite classes in law school?
JR: Constitutional Law with Professor Freund, Administrative Law with
Professor Batar. I had Derrick Botts for Labor Law and he was excellent.
enjoyed Tax, interestingly enough, and I never used it after that. I made my
highest grade in Tax. When I went to the Justice Dept. the first day to meet with
the acting assistant Attorneys general of the various divisions, I met the Tax AAG
and explained to him that I’d gotten my highest grade in Tax but that I hadn’t
done anything with it and he said, “well your tax professor works for you now.”
Ernest Brown had left the law school and had come back to the Department of
Justice and at 88 or something like that was still the guru to which it was said that
when Professor Brown was in the audience at the Supreme Court, the Justices
including I think Bryer and Souter – would look to him rather than to the Solicitor
General to engage a response.
– 4 –
Interestingly enough, I never really got into Criminal Law at law school because I
didn’t think that I would be a prosecutor. I have often said that if I had it to do
over again, I would have gotten a Masters in Public Health, if possible, at the
same time I was finishing law school.
HB: And what would you have done with that?
JR: Hopefully the same thing that I did. I have found that Public Health is a
remarkable discipline; it’s a problem-solving discipline and I think it has been
under funded in this country and underutilized. Lawyers could do a much better
job armed with Public Health processes and discipline, I think.
HB: What did you think, during law school, that you would end up doing?
JR: I didn’t know. I think that gave me some pause in the first two years
between my second and third year I clerked for a firm here in Miami. It was at
846 Brickell Avenue and it was the first office building, really, on Brickell Avenue.
HB: What was the name of the firm?
JR: Brigham & Dinse. He did a lot of condemnation work and I found that
fascinating, particularly under the Florida Constitution which ensured
– 5 –
compensation in addition to the recovery for the market value of the property. I
walked into a situation, though, that summer, where I had to write an appellate
brief immediately the first day that I arrived and it was due in five days. The
issue was whether Demerer or Greenhart should be taxed as it came into this
country and there were constitutional issues involved and I just got into it and had
a wonderful time. The pressure of time didn’t seem to bother me; it seemed to
motivate me and I thought, “hey, this is fascinating, this is really interesting.” And
I think from then on I had a sense that I could find my way in the law and enjoy it.
HB: What did you do immediately after you graduated from law school?
JR: I came back to the Brigham firm and was there from the Summer of ’63
through December ’66 and did mostly condemnation work. I can still drive
around this town and say, I handled the condemnation of the property that
produced that building.
HB: Was there ever a question in your mind that you were going to come back
JR: I don’t think so; I tried to put it in a more objective way. I tried to say, let
me look at the rest of the country and I liked the Pacific Northwest but it was so
rainy that I missed the light. I like San Francisco, but San Francisco was a
– 6 –
wonderful place to visit as opposed to a place to live in. And I haven’t found
since then a place that I’d rather live than Miami.
HB: Now when you came back and took this position at the Brigham firm,
where were you living?
JR: I was living at the house my mother built on North Kendall Drive.
HB: Now, your siblings had all left by then?
HB: So, it was just you and your mom?
JR: And father.
HB: And father. Was your father still working as a reporter?
JR: Oh yes.
HB: And how long did he continue working as a reporter?
– 7 –
JR: He retired; I don’t know the exact date, but he retired around 1966 and
went out and lived in a cabin in the Everglades. He called me in June of 1966
and said, “I think I’ve been married to that woman for 30 years, I think we should
have an anniversary party” and there was a great wonderful event. Mother was
quite surprised and quite taken by it. And she asked him, she said, “are you
sorry you did it?” And he said, “I wouldn’t have missed it for a million dollars.”
HB: What do you think motivated him to go live in a shack in the Everglades?
jR: He like his dogs, he liked new experiences, he’d been down in the Islands;
my brother had been working in the islands in Montserrat and Daddy had
enjoyed that. He had the same kind of adventurous experience as his father did
and enjoyed traveling, enjoyed seeing different people. He was near lmmokalee
and he had some wonderful experiences while he was there.
HB For those people who don’t know, lmmokalee is a small town right on the
edge of the Everglades.
HB: So he lived there without power, no electricity?
– 8 –
JR: I can’t remember whether he had power or not; there may have been a
short wire in from the road. One of the things he was proud of was that he didn’t
like guns, although but he knew how to use them. Police officers would give him
guns and he would take the guns apart and methodically drop the pieces in a
canal on the way home. That was his way of dealing with weapons. But he had
a rifle there and the story goes that he came upon a rattlesnake and from some
distance away put a bullet through its head. He just enjoyed the people and the
stories and that’s what I think he enjoyed about being a reporter and growing up
with the City from 1923.
HB: How long did he live in the Everglades?
JR: Till December ’67, I think.
HB: Did you ever go visit him there?
JR: Oh yes.
HB: How would you get there?
JR: We would drive and walk in from the main road.
HB: How far was it from ….
– 9 –
JR: It wasn’t very far from the main road
HB: And your mother stayed back?
JR: No, she went too.
HB: So tell me what it was like as a young associate at your first law firm,
being given responsibility for firm cases for the first time?
JR: I got responsibility for my own cases, but I didn’t get most of the trial work.
I got help and Toby would try the cases. Yet, I got a chance to go across Florida
to do some of the condemnation work involving Cape Canavral. I was involved in
other projects around the state and I found myself getting to know Florida and
getting to know different people. It was really interesting at that time. I think I
learned one of the most important lessons from Ed Brigham. He was in his late
60s by that time, but he had a remarkable library for a man who was in fact a
solo practitioner, as a lead practitioner. He had some wonderful lawyers in his
firm in Lee Black, David Goodwin, George Wright – wonderful lawyers. Angus
Stevens. And he drove himself harder than he drove any lawyer. I could find Mr.
Brigham in the library more often than anybody else and if you dug far enough
and if there was any merit in your case, you could always find something to
support the argument and he taught me that if you research thoroughly enough
– 10 –
and understand the factual basis of your claim and put life into the factual basis
of your claim, that you can always make a legitimate argument for most of what
HB: So what were the circumstances that you left the Brigham firm under?
JR: I realized that I was not going to try that many cases. This was, I think,
December of ’67. I had gotten to know Sandy D’Alemberte and one of my best
experiences was coming up against Sandy on a motion. He represented Florida
Power & Light and I represented a property owner, a mom and pop property
owner whose property value was being totally demolished by taking of an
easement and I came in prepared but not expecting Sandy. I was incensed at
Florida Power & Light for what they were doing and armed and ready for action.
I beat Sandy on that motion just because I was well prepared. A number of
years later, he offered me a job as Staff Director of the House Judiciary
Committee, I think, because of that experience, and so I’ve always remembered,
“be prepared, be prepared.”
HB: During those early years of practice, were you conscious of being one of
the few women practitioners in the Dade County courts?
JR: Yes, people would comment on it, but Dixie Chastain was a marvelous
inspiration for me because I had known her and I knew you could do it. Another
– 11 –
person I admired tremendously was Jane Hayward, I believe that’s her name.
And I just admired her so much because she was such a gracious, considerate,
thoughtful person who always inquired how I was doing when we’d go up in the
elevator in the courthouse. She stuttered and she never let it get her down and
she was impressive. There were other women along the way who made a
HB: It sounds like you were all conscious of each other and the fact that there
were other women practicing in various different areas?
HB: So when you decided to leave Brigham, what did you want to do next?
JR: I had gotten to know Gerald Lewis, Bob Shevin and Sandy D’Alemberte
and I campaigned for some of them during the 1965-66 elections. There had to
be an election held over again because the reapportionment hadn’t gone as
HB: And for people who don’t know about Mr. Lewis and Sandy and Bob
Shevin, these were all people who were running at the time for the State
– 12 –
JR: Yes. At that time Gerald Lewis had been elected to the legislature and he
wanted to go out on his own. He’d been at Blackwell, Walker & Gray and asked
if I would be interested in going with him and so we opened a two person firm. I
learned an awful lot about office management and business development and it’s
a lesson I’ve always been glad I learned but glad it didn’t experience for longer
than three years.
HB: So, Lewis & Reno was in place for three years?
JR: Yes, about three years and then Sandy D’Alemberte offered me a job as
the Staff Director of the House Judiciary Committee when he became the
Chairman and that was 1971-72.
HB: That required you to move to Tallahassee?
JR: Yes. He told me that the major issue before the Committee would be the
reform of the judicial article in the Florida Constitution. They had worked on
constitutional revision in the 1968 session of the legislature and had succeeded
in revising and reforming the Constitution, modernizing the Constitution, with
respect to all articles except article V, the Judicial Article. There had been an
attempt made in 1970 to revise the Judicial Article, but the circuit judges opposed
it and it had been defeated at the polls. Sandy said his main aim was to revise
the Judicial Article and to do it the right way and he had a marvelous idea, I
– 13 –
thought. He said, let us identify the issues and see up front what issues belong
in the Constitution and what should be handled by legislation or by rule or by
practice. We framed the issues in a very sparse Constitution – here is the
framework of a very basic Judicial Article, here is the vote that has to be taken,
here is the language that will have to go with it. And we had a wonderfully
HB: Now, Sandy at the time was …..
JR: Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
HB: In the State Legislature
JR: Yes. Dick Pettigrew was the Speaker of the House. I forget who the
Senate counterpart of Sandy was, but I presented to the Committee the outline,
the bare bones outline, of the Constitution and got from the Committee direction
just on the policy issue of what direction we should take I drafted the Constitution
based on their direction. A lot of attention was devoted to the tension that exists
between the branches of government – between the legislature and its power to
enact the law and the court and its power to enact rules for respecting the
procedure of the court and we ultimately worked out something that was
generally acceptable after much discussion with Judges and others. And it was
close, we had to get as I recall, I think it was two thirds of the vote to submit it to
– 14 –
the people and it was late, late at night – right towards the end of the session.
And we got it by about one vote which was a real achievement since the Judicial
article had not been amenable to change and to reform. I then spent a lot of time
traveling across Florida explaining the Judicial Amendment and I got to know a
lot of wonderful people and worked with wonderful people, a lot of judges, Judge
Hugh Taylor and Judge Guy McCord – two circuit judges – were extraordinarily
helpful in implementing it. Justice – then Judge Overton – was remarkable in his
support and in his assistance to me and we got it passed.
HB: That was passed by a vote of all of the citizens of Florida?
HB: How long did that project take?
JR: We started in – I went to work for Sandy in March of 1971. We worked
through the session and then we had a special session for the authorization of
the corporate profits tax that Ruben Askew had proposed and in that special
session we secured passage of the resolution that placed it on the ballot. So it
was really from about the Spring of ’71 through March of ’72. In March of ’72 the
people approved it at the polls.
– 15 –
HB: Here you are a relatively young lawyer with this pretty heady position of
revising the Constitution and coming up with a plan for revising the Court system
throughout the whole state. How did that experience impact your views about
what you hoped to accomplish as a lawyer?
JR: Well, it gave me great confidence that I could use the law and that there
were roles that you could play in the law that would make a difference. I had a
chance to see and it was wonderful to know that I could sit down with Judge
McCord and Judge Taylor and they treated me as an equal and I could address
those issues. At the same time, there had been a lot of discussion about no-fault
divorce and we passed a bill with respect to no-fault divorce out of the Judiciary
Committee. I don’t remember the exact details (I’ll have to go back and get the
details). Ruben Askew vetoed the first Bill and with little warning, no signal that
he was going to do it – just right out of the blue. Sandy swung into action and
there were many late nights walking up and down the corridor of the Capital from
the House to the Senate – but we were able to work with Governor Askew to
come up with something that was ultimately acceptable. It was at that time that I
realized that I could make a difference. I debated … I forget who the debate
was with, but it had to do with the justices of the peace in Duval County and they
were a powerful force and so I took on the JPs. When I got back to Tallahassee,
I got a letter from the Chief Deputy Sheriff of Duval County saying that he had
seen my debate on television the night before and urged me that if I was ever
inclined, to pursue a career in public service because I could speak well, I was
– 16 –
reasonable, I was not fanatical and if I just continued along that vein, I would be
HB: So what did you think about that kind of suggestion, was that something
you were considering, committing your career to public service?
jR: Well, I did after March of ’72, there was a special election because – I
forget the reason for the special election – but I decided to run for the legislature.
There had been reapportionment in single member districts and the world had
changed in ’72. I ran and won the primary without much difficulty.
HB: Against a number of opponents.
JR: Two, as I recall. And then I didn’t pay enough attention to my race
because I was asked to support the Democratic Party of Dade county. I worked
with Joe Robbie (Miami Dolphins), who was always very good to me, and I was
defeated in that election, in the general election. I look back on it now and I think
somebody was watching out for me.
HB: Why do you think that ?
JR: I don’t know, I had to … one of the things that happened in that election
which was interesting is I ran at the same time John Orr was running for Mayor of
– 17 –
Dade County. Orr had been the only legislator in Florida in the ’50s to vote in
favor of a resolution condemning the continued segregation of our public schools.
He knew he was coming home to overwhelming political defeat and he was
defeated soundly at the polls. He made a comeback in the late 60’s, early ?O’s
and went to work as a prosecutor for Richard Gerstein, established a reputation
there and then was elected Mayor of Dade County in ’72.
During the campaign, we would often find ourselves at the same campaign event
and he said, “Janet, just keep on doing and saying what you believe to be right.
Don’t pussy foot, don’t equivocate, don’t talk out of both sides of your mouth and
you’ll wake up the next morning feeling good about yourself. But if you
equivocate, try to say everything to everybody, to make everybody happy, you’re
going to wake up the next morning feeling miserable.”
I didn’t feel entirely good when I lost, but I remembered what John Orr taught me
– and I have never forgotten it. It’s one of the best lessons I’ve ever learned.
Somebody at some time that morning had put a biography of Abraham Lincoln
on my bedside table and I woke up to it, opened it to a page in which it described
how Lincoln lost his first election. It helped to know how to lose and that it was
not the end of the world. That day after the election David Pearson, a public
relations consultant, called me, he was a very dear friend of Richard Gerstein
and had gotten to know Gerstein by serving on one of his grand juries. Pearson
– 18 –
said that Gerstein wanted to talk to me about being a prosecutor in his office and
I said, “he doesn’t want me, I’ve always been his critic, I thought he was more
interested in securing convictions than justice.” He said, ‘well, he wants to talk to
you.” I went to talk to Gerstein and to Sy Gelber, who became a circuit judge
thereafter but was one of Gerstein’s chief assistants at the time. Gelber said,
“what do you want her to do?” Gerstein said, “I want to find her something to do.”
And they – I’m just trying to think of the chronology now. The election was
November – I’m not sure of the chronology on David Pearson’s phone call but, at
any rate, in December I went to work for the State Attorney’s office.
HB: You mentioned how you never thought you’d be a prosecutor. What was
it about State Attorney Gerstein’s offer that made you decide to go work for him?
JR: I’ve had people – Tom McAlily – I’d gotten to know Tom – good plaintiffs’
lawyer in town and McAlily had surprised the daylights out of me by saying one of
the jobs I should really consider running for would be state attorney because you
could do so much to protect innocent people by not charging them. I’d heard Bill
Fraites talk about what that office could do and the opportunity it presented to
make things different. So I didn’t reject it out of hand. I accepted the position –
that was in the Fall of ’72. I worked there until June of ’76. I started in December
of ’72 and then in the Spring of ’73 after Richard Pettigrew became Chairman of
the Senate Criminal and Justice Committee of the legislature, Pettigrew asked
me to come up to Tallahassee to be a consultant on the revision of the Criminal
– 19 –
Code. I spent the time trying to revise the Florida Criminal Code and had a
chance to meet some really interesting people. One was a fellow who had been
an assistant state attorney in Dade County and then police legal advisor for the
Hollywood or Fort Lauderdale Police, I don’t remember what – but his name was
Bob Butterworth and he was extraordinarily helpful from his experience as Police
Legal Advisor. I saw for the first time and have seen so many times since, his
wonderful, deft way of dealing with people to get things done. When I was up
there, Gerstein came up to talk about some proposal and he pulled me aside,
because I had just been a regular assistant state attorney for him, and he said,
“I’d like for you to be one of my chief assistants. You’ll do just fine.”
And so I came back to Miami in the summer of ’73 and became Chief Assistant
for Administration, replacing Gelber, who going off to do something – I forget
what. In that position, I reviewed most the felony cases, I established disposition
reports. We tried to develop processes and procedures as the office was
growing in leaps and bounds. I worked there until the Summer of ’76. At that
time, John Smith, who was probably with Sandy one of the two most important
people in terms of my professional career, John Smith, said, “we’d like you to
come with Steel Hector & Davis.” I said, “shouldn’t you check with your partners
first?” He said, “I think we can do it.”
HB: Now you had applied to Steel Hector & Davis previously, right, when you
left law school?
– 20 –
JR: Yes, I had sought a position as a clerk between my second and third year
and I didn’t get it, expressly because I was a woman. This time they made me a
partner. I represented ITT in a property assessment case arising from the Palm
Coast Development – that was one of the first cases that I got involved in. I also
undertook a suit that had been brought against Southeast Bank as part of its
bank acquisition program and had a number of cases with Florida Power & Light.
HB: That had to be quite a change – going from administering felony
prosecutions in the State Attorney’s Office, to a white bread, white shoe law firm
in downtown Miami.
JR: It was fascinating and I am so glad that I did it because nobody could ever
throw it up to me that I didn’t try cases, that I didn’t resolve issues. I tried the
case in Orlando involving the bank acquisition and I remember it so vividly
because that’s one of the things that I have found so wonderful about the law.
You can get involved in a single case so that you know it like the back of your
hand and you fit all the pieces of the puzzle together, or you’ve come as close as
humanly possible to doing that and you never forget that case for as long as you
live. It’s part and parcel of you. Whereas, administration – its more global and
you don’t know all the details because you can’t be a micro-manager if you’re
going to really succeed. And I knew that case and we won and it was so
important but I left Orlando that afternoon to go up to Palatka to talk about the
next case that I was undertaking with respect to ITT – the property assessment
– 21 –
case. And I walked into the office of the lawyer that I had heard a lot about and
I’d heard about her because one of my favorite decisions is Cason v. Baskin,
defining the right of privacy under Florida law. Marjory Kennan Rawlins (The
Yearling) had written about Zelma Cason and it had been meant to be an entirely
positive piece, but Zelma didn’t like having her voice compared to a screeching
canary and she had gone to see Kate Walton, a lawyer in Palatka, and Miss Kate
practiced with her father and her father just gave the case to Kate. I remember
that afternoon – Kate Ralston’s law office that looked out over Putnam county
courthouse square and the big oak out there and I’m 6’1-1/2″ and Miss Kate must
have been about 5’1-1/2″ and she looked up at me with these cold blue eyes that
she could muster on people and I said, “Miss Kate, it’s an honor to meet you, I’ve
always admired you work tremendously in Cason vs. Baskin and what you did
with respect to the right of privacy. She was so wonderful, she said, “dumbest
thing I ever did. I thought that woman’s privacy had been violated, nothing
violated it as much as we did in the litigation.” I was taken aback about it so I just
sat there and started to learn from her and she was a marvelous advocate. She
could give no quarter or she could sit and compromise something just in the right
way according to her appropriately applied principles. I got up in the county
courthouse, the old courthouse in Flagler County, and cross-examined the
appraiser that had been hired by the County and I had more fun in that crossexam. Then I got up at the end and she had represented others and I read from
a brief that she had filed in the case and I could just feel. .. I mean she really had
a way with words and her argument was perfectly applied to this particular issue
– 22 –
and appraisal practices and procedures Judge William Wadsworth was the judge
and Miss Kate’s nephew, Bill Townsend, worked with her on the case and
Townsend is a brilliant lawyer and practiced with his aunt for a number of years.
I won that round but ITT lost in the long run and at that point I had come back to
the State Attorney’s Office as State Attorney. When I had the chance, I went to a
prosecutors’ meeting in St. Augustine and decided to see if I could see Bill
Townsend and Miss Kate and drove down and she had a house right on the
St. John’s. She and I stayed up all night talking and it was an experience I will
never forget and what she did in terms of showing me that one person can make
their way and have an impact was also extraordinarily important. Then working
with Florida Power & Light and getting to know people at all levels of Florida
Power & Light and knowing that I could work in a corporate environment and still
adhere to my principles was also very important to me.
Along the way when I worked for Dick Pettigrew at the Senate Criminal Justice
Committee in the Spring of ’73, Chesterfield Smith came to Tallahassee and he
said, “Janet, I want you to serve on the ABA Commission on Standards and
Juvenile Justice.” I found myself serving on the Commission with Judge Justine
Weisz, the wonderful Juvenile Court Justice in New York, and later Judge
Patricia Wald. Irving Kaufman was kind of the high-handed person chairing it.
would follow Judge Pollier’s lead or Pat Wald’s lead and again I found particularly
Pat Wald was just wonderful. It was a great experience for me many years later
to be able to tell people you can talk to Judge Wald about me if you want to know
– 23 –
what I’m like. Judge Pat Wald has always been a person who encouraged me.
Judge Pollier was again to me a classic example of grace in the legal profession,
intellect, principle, just a wonderful person. The first night we got there
Chesterfield had an elegant dinner at the Bar of the City of New York and all the
Bar people were there and Chesterfield came around and he spoke at the
beginning of the session and then he came round by where I was sitting and
said, “Hello doll baby.”
HB: Now this was the year Chesterfield was president of the ABA, correct?
JR: Yes, and a young lawyer by the name of Bill McBride was right behind me
and Chesterfield was … his confidence in me in putting me on that Commission
with the likes of Judge Wald and Judge Kaufman was a wonderful opportunity
and gave me again this great sense of confidence.
HB: I know there have been a number of other mentors that you have referred
to over time. Talk to us about your relationship with some of them, for example,
JR: Sandy is one of the dearest friends. Sandy and John – John was also one
of my dearest friends. Sandy and I and his then-wife Lynn, have gone through
the Okeefenokee swamp together with family and friends camping out – 20 of us
on one small platform with mosquitos biting and small children whimpering –
– 24 –
which I will always find as one of the great challenges. But Sandy, in everything
that I have undertaken, has been so supportive. When I was being considered
for Attorney General, Sandy was coming back from the Mid-Winter Meeting of
the ABA and his wife, Patsy, said “Sandy, you stay in Washington and do
anything she needs and that includes if you have to go get her stockings.” Sandy
was being considered for Solicitor General at the time. I said, “Sandy, you can’t
do this.” I mean he was on the phone talking to people, fielding calls for me
because I couldn’t get out to go down to the vetting place because reporters had
found where I was and as I punched the button and went down to the lobby, I
punched the button and went right back up because there was a crowd. And he
said, “no this is too important; this is just an extraordinary opportunity.” I will say
that Sandy – I urged him in between the time he was Dean of the Law School
and the time he was pursuing the presidency of the ABA, that he come down and
spend time in the Juvenile Justice system, the county court system, the felony
system to appreciate what a line prosecutor has to deal with. He did a fine job in
Juvenile Court. He got to felony court and on voir dire asked a juror, “what would
you do if the defendant doesn’t testify?” and my prosecutors came running up,
“he blew it, how could he blow it?” And I listened to it and the Judge roared and I
said, the great civil libertarian now understands better.
HB: It cost him his trial, I assume?
JR: Yes. But Sandy’s always been there.
– 25 –
HB: Very long relationship going back.
JR: And John came when I was preparing for confirmation. John took a whole
two weeks off and spent them in Washington doing everything he could to get me
HB: Now, there have been other people who have been strong influences on
your life. Certainly, I think Gerald Lewis would be in that category.
JR: Gerald was important. We practiced law together. He spent most of his
time on legislative matters which gave me a chance to run the law firm and learn
about how to run the law firm and the ins and outs of it. I also learned how to
charge somebody a fee, which was a very difficult thing to do. I mean, a lady
would come in and want me to represent her in a child support case and I’d cite
her a retainer and she’d just say, “I don’t have that, I don’t even have my money
for rent.” And I think that influenced me to spend an awful lot of time on the child
support enforcement function when I became State Attorney.
HB: Tell us about your relationship with Richard Gerstein.
JR: He was an extraordinary man; he’d flown in 825’s in the war and had his
eye blinded. Had an off and on controversy particularly with the Miami Herald
– 26 –
but had come through it all and I had an enormous respect him. I mean, it is
because of Richard Gerstein that I am where I am at in the sense that he gave
me that opportunity. He called us all to his house in November or perhaps early
December of ’77, I think, yes it would be ’77 and he had Ed Carhart, who was
another one of his chief assistants there and Martin Dardis, his chief investigator.
He said something to the effect, “I think I’m going to retire and go into private
practice and this seems to be a good time to do it and I want you all to be
prepared to take over.” He indicated that he was going to talk to the Governor
(that was Askew). I said, “I defer to Carhart.” Gerstein called me into the back
room and said, “you’ve got to do it, I just don’t know whether he can pull the
political stuff together to get appointed.” I didn’t think much more of it, it just
seemed out of the blue but I didn’t think that much of it. I was in Washington for
a meeting with Florida Power & Light and got a frantic call from Martin Dardis
saying “Gerstein’s gone to Tallahassee to tell the Governor that he’s submitting
his resignation.” And it was Gerstein who saw political pitfalls for Carhart, who is
a marvelous, marvelous lawyer. I wrote the Governor a letter recommending
HB: Were you still with Steel Hector as this time?
JR: Yes. Bill Colson was asked by Governor Askew to handle the bidding for
the State Attorney job and handle the process. I talked to Bill and told him that if
Carhart didn’t get it that I would do it. I found myself going out to the airport with
– 27 –
now Judge Don Middlebrooks to meet Askew as he came in and he made the
announcement at the airport. The next day, I went out to the State Attorney’s
office and Gerstein was wonderful. He took me out into the pool of secretaries
and said I just want you to know that its wonderful to have a prospective state
attorney that I can see eye to eye with cause he was a very tall man. His role in
my becoming State Attorney was absolutely critical.
HB: Perhaps you could explain something about the unique powers of the
State Attorney of the Florida Judicial System.
JR: The State Attorney has the power to charge anyone except in the case of
a capital case with a crime. For a capital case, the Grand Jury has to indict. The
State Attorney does not have standard civil service requirements, so there is
great authority in being able to hire and terminate. There is extraordinary power
in the office when you consider what effect it can have and it makes me try to
figure out whether you have enough to charge people is one of the most difficult
issues that any lawyer ….
HB: Is this a good place to stop?
– 28 –
JANET RENO ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW – PART Ill
SEPTEMBER 9, 2005
HB: Good morning Ms. Reno. Today is September 9, 2005. This is the third in
a series of continuing interviews of Ms. Janet Reno as part of the
American Bar Association Commission on Women Oral History Project.
When we last met, we had just started talking about your selection as the
Dade County State Attorney and I thought that perhaps this morning you
could tell us about some of your experiences in that position. Just to set
the background, you were the Dade County State Attorney during what
period of time?
JR: From 1978 – 1993.
HB. During that period of time, I know that you had a number of particular
areas of interest that you focused on. Perhaps you might start this
morning by telling us when you first were appointed to the position and
what you perceived to be the greatest challenges you faced in that
JR: Well, I swore, previous to my appointment, that I would never be a
prosecutor because I thought they were more interested in securing
convictions than seeking justice. That was one of the points that I tried to
make over and over again as I served as State Attorney. The first
objective of the office was to make sure that innocent people did not get
prosecuted. The second objective was to prosecute the guilty, but to do
so according to principals of due process and fair play. I will make
reference to that later. I came into office at the height of the cocaine
cowboys. Drug trafficking was escalating and the courts were overrun by
drug cases and by the violence associated with the drug cases. We were
in the middle of a legislative cycle and could not get the extra bodies we
needed to match the escalating case load. A lot of what I learned to do
was to do more with less; it was the selection process that was important
to me. I put a lot of effort into recruiting the best people I possibly could as
well as a diverse group of people. We focused on the interviewing
process; we involved people from the office who were excellent
prosecutors and I think we were able to build up a cadre of people that I
am very proud of even to this day.
But shortly after I started in this position, in December of 1979, as I recall,
we had an incident that marked Miami’s history and that was the McDuffy
Riot. Arthur McDuffy was a motorcyclist who ran a red light; the police
chased him into a crowded area ( crowded in terms not of people but of
buildings) and he was beaten to death.
HB: He was an African-American, correct?
– 2 –
JR: Yes. We immediately focused on it but in trying to figure out what
happened, all that we could piece together was the recollection of some of
the people there – there were no independent witnesses and it became
very difficult to put the case together, to take the pieces and to say
number one , he was beaten and, number two, who beat him? And did
they beat them – was there any arguable self-defense? It was one of the
most difficult cases to put together that I have seen either before or since.
H B: The testimony basically was just the testimony of the officers who were
JR: There were also some officers who were not involved, who stood on the
sidelines, but it was dark and it was difficult for those officers to see what
happened; difficult for them both in terms of recollection and in ability to
see and to remember precisely what happened. It was an extremely
difficult case to prosecute, but we put it together. The case was
transferred to Tampa and on a Saturday the jury returned a verdict of “not
guilty” and the community erupted into violence.
HB: What was the racial make up of the jury and do you think that contributed
at all to the violent reaction?
JR: I don’t remember the racial make up of the jury [I’ll include that later].
What I think contributed to the reaction was something that we saw in the
years that followed. If they had had a chance to be in the courtroom and
see the case and have their representatives in the courtroom watching the
case unfold, those who were advocates for conviction would have had a
– 3 –
far better understanding of the challenges that the state faced. If we had
had gavel to gavel coverage with cameras in the courtroom, I think people
in the whole community would have come to accept what happened in a
much more competent way. But all the community knew was that
somebody had been beaten to death and that the only people who were
there and who could have done it were police officers and that there was
nobody defending McDuffy. I think the community made up its mind and it
was difficult to channel the passion that the case justifiably created into
positive and progressive efforts of what can we do to prevent such things
as this in the future. That night, the County Manager called me and said
the antagonism against you is so great that I am sending police out to
provide security. I said, I don’t think so, I’ll be fine; I’ll go stay with some
friends and you shouldn’t have to worry about that.
I stayed with friends that night and went early the next morning to the
Justice Building where the State Attorney’s Office and the Criminal Courts
were housed. As I drove up with my brother, I saw National Guard troops
standing around the Justice Building and you could see how part of it had
been burnt out as this crowd tried to gain entry into the building. When I
went up to the sixth floor where my office was, I could look out to the north
and see clouds of smoke billowing from buildings that had been burned
down and were still burning. People were killed in the afternoon and the
evening on Saturday after the verdict. Someone called from the
– 4 –
Community Relations Board called me and asked to see me; he came to
the office and he said, “I think you’ll have to resign to quell the riot.” And I
said, “that’s not the way to do it. We’ve got an election coming up this Fall
and qualifying closes in July and that’s the way you get somebody out of
the office. For me to resign because of a riot would contribute to anarchy
and its not a positive step.” That afternoon, Sunday afternoon, I was
asked to come to the Community Relations Board and people reiterated
these feelings to me. I explained what we had done, the difficulty of the
prosecution and why it was important that the democratic process take its
course. As it turned out, nobody ran against me. My mother said it was
because nobody wanted the job. But shortly thereafter, I was asked to go
to the Caleb Center for a community meeting ….
HB: Could you explain what the Caleb Center is?
JR: The Caleb Center is in an area of the community that is predominantly
African-American and it is the governmental center for that area. It has an
auditorium and it is a place where many community meetings were held
both before and since. That night people asked questions; they were
angry; they were defiant; they were critical; they had not much good to say
about anything, but as the evening wore on you could hear the anger
dissipate, at least as to me, as I explained to them what we had done and
what the challenges were that we faced in the prosecution. I explained
that it was important to take their anger and channel it into programs that
could make a difference for young people and could make a difference in
– 5 –
terms of training police officers in how to react in situations such as this.
By about 11 p.m. people were beginning to file out, some would file out
and as they passed by me, pat me on the shoulder and say that “it’s going
to be ok.” By the end of the evening, there was a new tone and a new
feeling. Governor Bob Graham appointed a committee headed by Irwin
Block to study the cause of the riots and I testified before the committee
for two long nights. All that experience was part of what has shaped my
life as a lawyer and my life as it has responded to challenges. To know
that if you run into a difficult situation, talk, explain, lecture, t~lk with action
when its appropriate, take steps, follow them and we were able to do a lot
of that. We were able to work with others in terms of public housing
projects that needed reformation, we were able to address issues in the
community such as child support and other areas that were important to
people. And so by 1988, my mother and I would walk the length of the
Martin Luther King parade; we were the only people that walked amongst
the public officials generally and my mother would say, why are they
cheering you? And I said, it’s because of child support and you could hear
the chant: Child support! child support! Child support! Because we were
the agency responsible for collecting child support in the County; we had
agreed to do it as an agent of the state. Then mother would say, there’s a
boo. And I would say, “I’m probably after him on a felony warrant.” But
we were able to do that. By 1984, ….
– 6 –
HB: Let me just go back to a couple questions about the McDuffy riots. Were
you scared any point during those few days? The city’s burning, there
were people looting stores, there were people being killed and you walk
into the center of the African American part of the city which is basically
burning around you, to answer the community’s questions and to try and
explain what you’ve done?
JR: I don’t remember ever being scared. I remember being concerned about
how we’d reach out, how we’d make sure that people would take the
deaths seriously and that we didn’t just make it a past event of our history.
That we incorporate it into our history and our planning in the community
that something like that would never happen again. And there is
something about, I felt there was a communication between me and the
people of the African American community – including those that were
sharpest in their criticism of me. I think as time went on, and I went to
meeting after meeting as we developed programs, as we fought for child
support, as we developed the drug court, which I will talk about later; as
we filed a complaint against Dade County Housing Authority to reform the
public housing program in this county, people understood what we were
about. Those things made a difference. It is so touching to me to come
home and even now to have people come up to me and say, you got me
child support and it made all the difference. Or, you helped my son, he
was in trouble but you got him through the Juvenile Justice system and it
helped and it made a difference and it got him off on the right foot. And
– 7 –
there is a spirit, there’s a bond there between myself and so many people
in· the African American community that has really touched me and given
me encouragement that I’ve never had the sense of fear. I’ve had the
sense of “I don’.t want to let you down.”
HB: Did you ever think about resigning?
JR: I gave it serious consideration to make sure that I would look at it with as
open a mind as possible. But I quickly concluded each time that I looked
at it that it would be contributing to anarchy.
HB: Do you think that the experience that the City went through with the
McDuffy riots did become a part of its history that will forever change the
way that we do business here?
JR: We have to be careful of that. Because it became a part of our history.
But as evolved history we read it and then we sometimes tuck it away in
an inconvenient corner that makes it difficult for us to pull it out and look at
it and understand it. As I think I mentioned in a prior interview, shortly
after I took office, Dixie Chastain sent Judge Bill Gladstone, who sat on
the Juvenile Bench an article my mother had written talking about the
sorry state of juvenile detention systems in Dade county. I was
addressing that with the judges at the time I took office. Dixie Chastain
sent it to Judge Gladstone, who sent it to me with a note from Judge
Chastain saying, some things never change.
HB: Did the experience of the McDuffy riots change the focus of what you were
trying to accomplish at the State Attorney’s Office?
– 8 –
JR: I don’t think it changed the focus so much as I became convinced that
they had heard so many promises; there were so many people who talked
to me that night and succeeding nights about, “I don’t want to hear any
talk, I want to hear action. And it was going out and sitting with them and
talking out the issues and listening to them and sometimes listening to
them when they had absolutely crazy ideas and then realizing in the
middle of it, no that wasn’t a crazy idea, that could really be utilized
effectively. I went through a public housing project that was affected by
our lawsuit and I was appalled at the condition of the public housing that
we were visiting.
HB: This was a lawsuit that you had brought against the County government
as the landlord of public housing in the County?
JR: It was an action to eliminate a the public nuisance; the State Attorney had
the authority and the jurisdiction under state law to bring such an action.
We entered into a Consent Decree with the County. I took my mother and
drove through the public housing project. When I first went in, people
greeted me with just sullen, downcast looks. Now, as I drove through with
my mother after we filed our lawsuit, it was, “Ms. Reno, come here, I want
to show you what was done here.”
HB: Yes, let’s talk about another of your accomplishments as State Attorney –
the creation of the nation’ first drug Court. Where did the idea of Drug
Court first come from?
– 9 –
JR: It came from the fact that Kathy Rundle, who was one of my chief
assistants, said we’re just rotating people through the Courts. People who
are first offenders charged with a small amount of cocaine, nothing’s
happening to them. We tried to work these cases through the pretrial
intervention program but that didn’t provide enough clout and leverage to
motivate people to comply with the program. And so we came up with the
idea of a Drug Court. A managed case load that was not spread too thin,
that provided adequate treatment resources. Judge Wetherington and
Judge Klein spearheaded the effort through the Supreme Court and Judge
Klein was given authority by the Supreme Court to supervise the Drug
Court Program. It was a classic example of people coming together. The
Public Defender came to be a part of the system. Hugh Rodham, the
brother of Senator Clinton, was an assistant public defender who was
assigned to it and helped make it work. And we took first time offenders
charged with possession of a small amount of cocaine and put them in the
Drug Court and said, work with us and we’ll get you into job training and
we will work with you and see that you’re getting other opportunities. But
if you continue to use drugs, you’re going to face a more serious sanction
each step of the way. Stanley Goldstein, a wonderful judge, became the
Presiding Judge; he had a way of talking to people that convinced them it
was really the thing to do. People started hearing about the Drug Court
because we had it examined by independent outside reviewers and they
came back with the consensus that it was working; that the instances of
– 10 –
recidivism was decreasing each step of the way and the program was
having an impact. Now, its so rewarding, both as Attorney General and in
the years that have followed, to visit Drug Courts across the country.
Something that has evolved from the Drug Courts are Mental Health
Courts, that provide a focus on drug using and mental health issues that
are so critical. I am so proud of the people in those jurisdictions who have
done so much to create the Mental Health Courts as well.
HB: So your Drug Court was really one of the first in the country to come up
with this concept and its, of course, still very prevalent and very much
relied upon by the justice system in the county today.
JR: My hope is that nowhere is it relied on as just a means of disposing of
these cases; its got to have, and I warn Drug Courts when I’m asked to
speak, let’s not be spread too thin; there’s got to be quality substantive
treatment opportunities available to people for the Drug Courts to be
HB: Does that mean that the program will only work if there is legislative
budgetary support to provide treatment programs?
JR: Yes. And my understanding is that we nearly lost that last session of the
legislature as they dealt with Article V expense issues under the
HB: Why don’t you talk to us about your Child Support Initiative; when you first
implemented it; wasn’t it quite unique?
– 11 –
JR: It really wasn’t. The only jurisdiction over the issue that the State
Attorney’s office had when I took office was through URISA (the Uniform
Reciprocal Child Support Enforcement Act). The State Attorney was the
URISA official responsible for handling cases where the non-paying
spouse, the custodial spouse, or the absent spouse was in another
jurisdiction. People were confused. They thought that I handled intrastate as well as interstate child support enforcement. Realizing that there
wasn’t an apparatus available in this state at that time, a federal initiative
gave federal funding to states that started getting into child support
enforcement on an intrastate level. So, I volunteered to handle it. My staff
said that they thought I was crazy, because these were some of the most
difficult cases to deal with. We got more calls from child support than
almost any other ….. “why haven’t you gotten me my money, I told you
where the guy was and you haven’t done a darn thing.” And at that time,
there was a great deal of effort put into automation and I learned a lot
about automation and how it can help and how you can totally mess it up if
you don’t plan it well. But we were able to attract some really good people
who understood how important child support was, and we got judges who
were committed to fair enforcement of child support and didn’t look at it as
a nuisance that had to be dealt with. It required a constant effort, but I
think that’s one of the things that people have got to understand.
Government requires a constant vigilance. Never take anything for
granted; never assume that the program that you instituted is working well.
– 12 –
You’ve got to provide some checks and balances to make sure that you
identify problems in the system before they explode into crises. And we
did that with child support and we never gave up and people who . . . I
mean there were times when I’d wondered why I’d ever gotten into it. But
when I saw the reaction of people that were being helped, it was the
classic example, to me, of the importance of government. I remember
when I was in private practice and a lady came to me asking me to
represent her in a child support case. I quoted her a retainer of $300 and
she said, “what do you mean $300? I don’t have money for the next
month’s rent.” Properly done, government can do it so much more
efficiently than the private sector of the Bar, but government is not going to
work just on flash and spin. It’s going to work on nitty gritty, painstaking
efforts that get the lady $1,000 worth of child support. That means more
than I can possibly tell you. I mean, it’s like she’s got a _new lease on life.
She’s going to be able to get clothes and pay her rent and work and
provide for child care afterwards.
HB: Does the State Attorneys Office today still continue to handle child
JR: Yes, in its 100 S. Biscayne Blvd. office where they still are.
HB: Talk to us about your efforts with the Juvenile Justice System, because I
know that that was a top priority for you.
JR: When I had previously worked in the State Attorney’s office, I had set up a
Juvenile Justice Division to try and focus on efforts in this area. One of
– 13 –
the things that I realized was that the judges had so little resources to deal
with complicated issues. When I became State Attorney, I saw such a
difference between the children who were coming through the Juvenile
Justice System then in 1979, 1980, 81, 82 and the children that I had seen
earlier in the 70’s coming through the system when I was an Assistant
HB: What was the difference?
JR: The difference is that in later years, the children were more violenceprone. Drugs and cocaine were the culprit. Even before crack hit the
community in 1984, you were beginning to see the violence, the guns.
These were not juveniles, these were sophisticated kids that had learned
from their older brother or learned from television and it was going to take
a lot more to deal with the problem. But what we tried to do was a mutlidisciplinary approach that said, here is a kid that is really in trouble,
violence-prone, but there was no reason that he could not get
straightened out if he had the medical care necessary to address the
chronic asthma problem that was causing problems throughout. If
someone could tutor him to bring him up to grade level because he’d
always been high. If we could work to make sure that his mother had
proper child care in the afternoon and what could we do about that? And
he’s in public housing and what can we do about a public housing project
that’s falling down around him? You just realize that the problems are so
great. It was at that point that the crack epidemic hit Miami in 1984 and I
– 14 –
had to figure out what to do about crack involved infants and their
mothers. The doctors from Jackson Memorial Hospital called me and
said, we would like you to come over and talk with us. And I met with child
development experts and neo-natalogists and they taught me that 50% of
all human response is learned in the first year of life, that the concept of
reward and punishment and one’s conscience is developed in the first
three years of life. That afternoon as I drove back to the Justice Building, I
thought, what are all the programs going to be 20 years from now if that
child doesn’t understand the difference between right and wrong, if he
never developed a conscience? What good are schools going to be, if
they don’t have the benefit of learning? I put a lot of effort into trying to
develop a multi-disciplinary approach to deal with the crack mother. I
became convinced that if you could keep the child with the mother you are
going to have a better chance at a successful outcome. And the sooner
you could get the situation in hand, the better chance you were going to
have. I worked a lot with others to try and do everything we could with
prevention, but much more still needs to be done.
HB: Were you able to implement any programs to assist with the crack
JR: We worked with Dr. Jessie Trice at the Family Health Center and others in
terms of trying to develop programs. We found that there were mothers
who would not come in for help because they were afraid that if they came
in, we’d take their child away from them. And we tried to develop an
– 15 –
opportunity that said, you can come in and you can keep your child with
you. I subsequently had the opportunity to see something like that work in
a New York State Prison facility, where the mother was treated in the
prison and was able to keep older children with her in the prison up until
the time they were about 3 years old. It does make a difference.
HB: Did you find any solutions to the issue of these violence-prone juveniles
going through the system?
JR: We were starting to find the solutions and when I came to Washington, I
testified at my confirmation hearing that one of the single greatest
problems we faced in America at that time, 1993, was youth violence –
which had reached terrible extremes. What we did was to take that
experience and try to put together a balanced program of punishment plus
prevention. We worked through the Career Criminal Program and, unlike
California and other states, we tried to limit it to serious offenders who
were true career criminals. We worked with US Attorneys and local police
and other authorities to develop partnerships. I had been in situations
where the Feds had come to town and said, we want to do this, this and
this and I said, well could we also do this , and, no, we would be told that
“we’re in charge here.” There was so much good will available from local
law enforcement and others who were engaged in prevention efforts that it
seemed like the perfect time to work together. We tried to use the US
Attorneys based on principles of federalism to pursue cases where drug
gangs or others crossed jurisdictional boundaries so that the US Attorney
– 16 –
would be the only office with jurisdiction over all the pieces. But we tried
to get US Attorneys to work with state and local authorities to plan what
was needed, recognizing that locals understand their needs and resources
better than anybody, including the Feds. The more we could develop a
partnership, the better we could plan. The more we could identify crime
generating forces in the community and do something about it, the bigger
difference that could be made. And so in Connecticut early on, the
Attorney General took action with state and local authorities, again making
sure that they were part of the team, that they felt part of the team. Drug
gangs were identified; Feds went after them. We got convictions, we saw
the crime rate go down significantly. We realized that if we didn’t partner
based on the experience in Connecticut, drug gangs would start back up.
We needed to match crime prevention programs that have worked with
HHS and the Department of Education to address some of these things.
One of my frustrations was that it took an awfully long time to develop a
partnership within the federal agencies, but by the last year or two that we
were in office, we had developed grants that were grants issued by the
Department of Justice, HHS, Education and Labor for healthy children and
safe schools, and I think we could have done a lot more with those if we
had been given the chance.
HB: I know you also instituted a Career Criminal Unit when you were State
– 17 –
JR: Due to the Career Criminal Unit, we focused on the truly dangerous
offenders. The people that had three violent crimes, not a violent crime at
18 and one at 50 but somebody who was convicted at 18, had a 5 year
sentence, got out in two years because there weren’t enough prison cells,
committed another robbery, got a 10 year sentence, got out, committed
another robbery in two years: that’s a homicide waiting to happen. We
were concerned that the courts, because of their caseloads, did not have
adequate time to address each of these cases in a manner that could
provide for prevention. I was convinced that it was important to focus on
these cases and so we developed a system with the Feds where we
identified such cases in the local system, transferred them to the Feds,
where the Feds were able to prosecute and get sentences for substantial
time. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the law enforcement
agency that helped coordinate this program, worked very well. I think they
have continued to do so.
HB: Now I know you made one of the focuses of your time as State Attorney
oversight of management of the entire office, which by the time you left
had how many attorneys?
JR: 230, I think.
HB: So quite a large law office. Why don’t you share with us some of your
thoughts about managing that large a group and how you chose to handle
– 18 –
JR: During the early ’80s as we faced the escalating drug violence and drug
trafficking, we began to see the cocaine cowboys in action. I watched the
office absorb caseloads that were staggering. I saw felony prosecutors
handling 300 felony cases at any one time. I saw major crimes
prosecutors handling 25 murder cases at any one time and I became in
awe of these people, who day in and day out continued to do their very
best. I discovered that if you let them know you care, and if you follow it
up by action, that shows that you care, you can get them to stay or get
them to come back. I’ll give you an example: I saw an assistant state
attorney who had been with the office for as long as 25 years. He was
telling me the story the other night when he brought his son by to see me.
His son is a Harvard junior majoring in chemistry but the day he was born
or shortly thereafter, he was identified as having a medical problem. I
talked to Gary while he was in the hospital and said, “don’t worry about a
thing at the office, we have it under control, just do whatever is necessary
to make sure that boy is going to be ok and if there’s anything we can do,
just holler.” Gary was telling me that he had never forgotten that. It was
remembering a child, it was asking about a mother, it was following up
with a note when they had done something special.
There were some things that frustrated me no end …. parking spaces, I
discovered parking spaces are just as important at the Justice Department
as they are at the State Department. It was going to Christmas parties or
– 19 –
to birthday parties. It was going to going away parties; it was letting
people know you care and that you value what they do. That they can
have an impact on what it is happening in their community; to do that
requires that we look upon each person as somebody who has something
to contribute. But you’ve also got to hold them accountable and you’ve
got to tell them what you want of them and what you expect and you’ve
got to lay it out so they understand the game plan. And you’ve got to
listen to them so that they understand. One of the things that I did, and I
still have the notes, is that in 1988 after I had no further opposition, I
asked each lawyer and each administrative person to come in and asked
them, “if you were State Attorney, what would you do to improve the
office?” I took careful notes and incorporated the comments into the plans
for the future of the office. Using that input from the people I worked with
was important, but it was also important that we saw to it that they were
executing it right. And when they didn’t execute it right, to sit down with
them and say, “this is a better way to do it, this is what we’re expecting.”
Then if they continued, then you could take action to hold them
accountable, but do it in a fair, respectful way after full notice and
involvement. And that worked too. One of the things that is very difficult
in any situation like this is somebody who does not want to hurt
somebody’s feelings. Somebody may not want to listen to the complaints
when they don’t get an excellent rating, but part of being a good manager
is to be able to say to somebody who hasn’t performed as they should,
– 20 –
“you didn’t measure up and you’ve got to improve and here’s where you
can improve and let’s see what you can do.”
HB: Assistant State Attorneys are not paid particularly well relative to what
lawyers would receive in private practice. I would think it would be a
continuing challenge as State Attorney to try and retain your top lawyers
who, I assume, are being constantly drafted with offers from the private
JR: It is one of the most difficult jobs and sometimes you can’t retain, them but
then sometimes, they’ll come back. A good number of them, let’s see,
three of my top lawyers went with me to Washington. It is difficult and it is
particularly frustrating after you put a lot of time and effort into it to have
him or her come in and say, “I would stay if I could, but I’ve got three
children to educate and I’ve got to send them to college and they’re a year
apart”, and I’d say, “yeah, I understand.”
HB: Let’s talk some about some of the significant prosecutions that you
supervised while you were a State Attorney. I’ll start by mentioning the
Johnny Jones trial. Perhaps you can explain to us who Johnny Jones was
and what type of prosecution it was.
JR: Johnny Jones was a superintendent of the pubic schools of Dade County,
Florida. He gave everyone great hope that he was going to make a
substantial difference in the school system. His views on schools were
excellent; he had executed some programs that made a difference. But
then one day early during my administration, somebody called me and
– 21 –
asked me what I was going to do about Johnny Jones’ gold plated
plumbing and I said, “what are you talking about?” They gave me this
television investigative reporter who gave me information that Johnny
Jones had used the school system to purchase gold plated plumbing
fixtures for his vacation home in Naples, Florida. At first, I just couldn’t
believe it. Then we followed up and we pursued it and we filed charges
against him and he was convicted. So jury selection at the time was
difficult and, I forget the exact make up of the jury, but his conviction was
reversed because of jury selection issues. That one was one of the most
difficult. [That’s one I need to, I want to make sure I get this as
accurately as possible and I have not found my notes on the Jones
HB: [That’s fine, we’ll come back to it next time.] One of the other
prosecutions that probably created the most controversy during your time
as State Attorney was the River Cops case. Why don’t you tell us what
these City of Miami Police Officers were accused of and what the
prosecution was based on.
JR: There were a range of crimes. The cops were accused of forcing people
into the river knowing that they couldn’t swim. We were about 10 days
into a deposition of the lead investigator. We had filed the charges in
state court and we were not yet half way through his notes. Under Florida
law, the defense can take the deposition of all the State’s witnesses and
the state can take depositions. Of course, under the Federal System,
– 22 –
depositions are not available. It was suggested that we transfer the case
to the Federal Court; both the Federal prosecutor and the United States
Attorney said he would be happy to take the case and I admired him very
much for doing that. But he told me that he thought that it would be
politically deadly for me. I said, “I don’t think so if people understand that I
am trying to use the system as wisely as possible; that there are enough
interstate connections here to justify an appropriate use of federal
authority and that if we can transfer the case to Federal Court, we will
have a better chance of convicting them.” The case was transferred to
the federal system and the defendants were convicted.
HB: The case was transferred to Federal Court?
JR: The case transferred to Federal Court. Depositions were terminated and
they were convicted. That gave me one of the experiences that so inform
my approach to prosecution: that is that we are not in it for the glory,
we’re not in it for the credit, we’re trying to do for a community or a certain
part of the State or whatever the boundary is, what is best for the
community consistent with the Constitution and the laws. If people
understood that, and I think they did, they would not have tried to make
such a big deal out of the fact that I did not prosecute it. I said, “I’m just
trying to do what’s best for the community and I’m not in it to rack up
points.” And so it paid off.
HB: It paid off because all of those officers ended up in jail?
JR: Most of them, yes.
– 23 –
HB: Obviously, you must have feared some personal criticism: perhaps, that
your office was not capable of obtaining a prosecution?
JR: We did get criticism, but when I talked to people and explained why we did
it, they would understand.
HB: Interesting. One of the other key cases during your tenure was the
Country Walk Sex Abuse Case. Why don’t you tell us about that one?
JR: That was a case that arose in 1983-84 when we received allegations that
a man and his wife who ran a child care center in Country Walk had
sexually abused a large number of small children. We worked with a man
and his wife who were experts, who had been brought in by the families.
It was extremely difficult to figure out how to deal with these very young
children and to learn whether they could be good witnesses or not. We
were able to put together the case. We obtained a conviction. It was
affirmed on appeal and is still pending in the courts, in Federal Court now
on post-conviction proceedings. But it is one of the few, if not the only,
case in which the conviction has stuck out of many cases that arose at the
same time. There had been critics of me and of what the office did –
saying that we just bowed to the hysteria of the time and that these were
wrongful convictions. The wife testified against her husband. We made
special arrangements for the children’s testimony to be observed by
closed circuit t.v. so they would not be subject to the scarring caused by
the courtroom experience. It is still pending at this point, but it is a classic
example of how important it is to try and do it right and to utilize resources
– 24 –
and programs and methods that will give us the chance to get to the truth
without locking people out of the system because they don’t want to be
involved or have their children involved because it is too much of an
HB: Do you sometimes stay awake at night wondering whether the people that
were prosecuted were, in fact, guilty?
JR: I am in line with my posture that the first objective of the State Attorney’s
office is to make sure that innocent people don’t get prosecuted. We put a
lot of time and effort in. I had a fellow write me from Palm Beach County
jail saying, “you convicted me of an armed robbery, your office did, I think I
remember but I was too strung out on drugs to know what I was doing or
to help my defense attorney but I think I remember where I was now, I was
in the Palm Beach County jail” and we were able to get him proven right
and get him out. I had the opportunity to reinvestigate the case of James
Joseph Richardson, a man who had been prosecuted, convicted and
sentenced to death for the poisoning death of his seven children two years
before in another jurisdiction. I saw how that had happened.
HB: The wrongful prosecution?
JR: The wrongful prosecution. I couldn’t prove that he was innocent because
of the passage of time and the death and incapacity of witnesses, but I did
prove to my satisfaction that the evidence had been insufficient to charge
him originally, and clearly insufficient at the time the case arose again.
That was not my case though, that was another State Attorney’s case.
– 25 –
But I saw easily that law enforcement officials, the prosecution officials,
accepted a rationale of the case based on one fact: that an insurance
agent had come by to sell insurance to Mr. Richardson just a day or so
before this poisoning event and the sheriff and the prosecutor just took
that and ran with it and developed tunnel vision. People claimed that
there was racial bias in it but the principal suspects were all the same race
and I don’t think there was any racial bias; I think there was tunnel vision
where people just put on blinders and look neither right nor left, but
traveled down the road that their initial clues indicated was the right road.
When I became an Attorney General, I saw an article that said 16 people
had been exonerated through post-conviction DNA testing and, when we
get to that period, it was so important for me to pursue that, to make sure
that we did everything that we could to prevent wrongful convictions. We
got the National Institute of Justice to do a study and it was entitled
“Convicted by Juries, Exonerated by Science.” it did analyses of the 16
cases (that had become 28 cases and now total over 160 cases) in which
defendants were exonerated from convictions for which they were
convicted for crimes they did not commit. One example is Luis Diaz, who
was known as the Bird Road Rapist, and who was convicted based on the
testimony of eight women who identified him.
HB: Diaz was prosecuted during your tenure as State Attorney, correct?
JR: Yes, he was prosecuted and convicted of seven of the eight charges. Roy
Black was his lawyer. A private investigator came to me with information.
– 26 –
I wrote to Black saying, “we have this information; is there anything that
you think we should do; any avenue that we can proceed down?” He
ultimately wrote back and said that he no longer represented Diaz, but in
his correspondence with the private investigator, he apparently shared the
same concern I had: that I saw no basis for reopening the case. After I
went to Washington, I think, I’m not sure of the dates, two of the witnesses
recanted, saying they now were not sure of their testimony. The State
Attorney’s office ultimately dropped those charges, leaving the six other
charges. The DNA sample was only available for testing with respect to
one of the witnesses that recanted and for whom charges had already
been dropped, but when that testing was done, it showed that he was not
the person who had raped her. Indeed, his sample matched the sample of
the third case. We had no information on it, we had not been furnished
information from law enforcement. I mean you see cases like this – a
person who says “I’m absolutely sure that that’s the person who did it.”
You realize how difficult it is to make such an identification. One of the
things that I have spent a lot of time pursuing since I left office are these
exoneration cases – with the hope of learning through these exoneration
cases what went wrong and what we can do working with scientists and
behavioral scientists to use science the right way to provide a check and
balance on our efforts in the law to reach the truth. It is estimated that
about 80% of the felony cases do not have DNA evidence available to
test. That means that we have got to learn from the 20% of the cases for
– 27 –
which we do have such evidence how we can improve the eyewitness
identification procedure and we made some real headway in doing that.
We have got to improve our laboratory apparatus and ensure scientific
soundness in what we do in crime labs. We have got to make sure that
we do not use jailhouse snitches inappropriately. There are so many
steps that we can take and I think when you ask “do you stay awake at
night?” Yes, you do stay awake at night wondering, “have I wrongfully
prosecuted somebody? ”
HB: Want to break there for the day?
JR: Yes, that would be good.
– 28 –
JANET RENO ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW – PART IV
SEPTEMBER 28, 2005
HB: Good morning Ms. Reno.
JR: Good morning.
HB: Today is September 29, 2005 and this is the fourth in a series of
interviews for the Oral History Project of the American Bar Association
Commission on Women. At the conclusion of the last interview of Ms.
Reno, we were discussing some of her major prosecutions during her 15
year term as State Attorney for Miami-Dade County. I thought we could
start this morning by talking about what occurred in Dade County in April
of 1980 when Fidel Castro basically opened the floodgates at Marielle,
including opening prisons, allowing in excess of 100,000 Cubans to come
to the shores of Florida, most of whom ended up settling in Dade County
and many of whom had a significant impact on the crime rate in the
County. So, I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about how you handled
that issue as State Attorney.
JR: Well, that issue was tied in with others, such as the conviction of Dr.
Johnny Jones that we discussed in a previous session and the drug
prosecutions that were overwhelming the State Court system. What we
did was that we triaged the cases; we tried to figure out what the most
important efforts must be and gave that side of the ledger the attention. It
was a time when caseloads were skyrocketing, where felony prosecutors
had caseloads that sometimes were 100 – 150, even major crimes
prosecutors had caseloads of 35. We tried to do everything we could in
terms of training. We had a large number of new people coming on board
and I would re-emphasize to those who manage an office like that that
training is absolutely key and essential. This is particularly the case in a
prosecutor’s office where the prosecution function is not taught as a
standard law school class that everybody might anticipate. Nonetheless,
it is one of the key functions of the whole criminal justice system. So we
started a training program at the time that I invested a considerable effort
in and I think it had a real return on that investment. We tried to back
people up. If there as a young prosecutor with a particularly difficult case,
we’d work with him or her, give them support, back them up. The
attention, the personal attention to let people know you understood what
their case loads were like, what they were struggling with in the court
system. Of your willingness to go down and tell the Court “this is the
posture we’re in; we have made a mistake, it is not the fault of the young
prosecutor, he has a tremendous caseload” and it was that type of effort
that I think got us through those days, but what primarily got us through
those days was the extraordinary dedication of the young men and
women, and some older people too, who had been in the system for a
long time, who made absolutely magnificent contributions to the Criminal
Justice System. During this time, I met Rudy Guilianni for the first time.
– 2 –
He was sent down, he was in the Justice System at the time; he was
Associate Attorney General, or going to be shortly, and he came down
and met with local leaders and asked us what we wanted. I told him,
“what I would like is a focus on the U.S. Attorney’s position in Dade
County so that it will become the equivalent of the recognition and the
honor given to the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New
York.” And, by George, if we didn’t get Stanley Marcus, which I reminded
Guiliani when I had the chance to meet him shortly after becoming
Attorney General and he remembered the day well.
HB: Stanley Marcus, for those of you who do not know, is considered one of
the best U.S. Attorneys that Dade County has ever had and he went on to
become a District Court Judge and now is on the 11th Circuit Court of
JR: Stanley Marcus immediately reached out to me and together we forged, I
think, a great alliance in which we tried to handle cases based on
principals of Federalism. If it was a major drug case, then, obviously,
there were federal issues and we would support the prosecution of the
case in Federal Court. But at the same time, we were concerned about
airport cases, for example, and if someone got arrested in the state court
system, the federal agents were going to have to come in for depositions
and they’re not used to depositions. Again, for those listening and not
familiar with the system, Florida has a very liberal discovery rule in
criminal prosecutions and the defense can take the deposition of any
– 3 –
witness listed – so the feds were reluctant to make cases in the airport
context because they would end up in depositions. So we began to take
those cases because we knew how to handle the deposition process in as
efficient a way as possible. With that type of accommodation in
recognizing who has the best ability to handle the most important cases,
HB: One of the things that there was a lot of discussion about locally at the
time was certain prosecutions that were actually jointly pursued by the
State Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. You were often
criticized for turning over those prosecutions, the implication being that
somehow the state attorney’s office was ill-equipped or unable to make
JR: Those prosecutions were clear examples of what we were trying to do.
Let me give you one specific example. We were concerned about career
criminals. By career criminals I do not mean somebody that has
committed two or three minor crimes; I mean an armed robber who was
arrested, convicted, sentenced to prison, serves time, comes out, gets
arrested again in a year, goes back in the system. For armed career
criminals, we weren’t getting sentences that I thought these cases
deserved. Three strikes and you’re out, if you will. And yet, the Criminal
Justice System, the state court, was handling all the homicide
prosecutions, some of the most complex, important cases in the system.
We could handle most of them better than the Feds, because we had a
– 4 –
Medical Examiner right there and we could put it together in fairly sufficient
fashion. So, I reached an agreement with the U.S. Attorney that we would
send the armed career criminal cases to the federal court where they was
a minimum mandatory for a conviction. In this case, we would get the
person off the streets with the proper use of minimum mandatories for
truly dangerous offenders, because by that third time up, we would be
lucky if it was not a homicide committed by a robber indifferent to the
Criminal Justice System. We had cases in which federal officials worked
with us on drug cases, again because of the international aspects of it,
because of DEA’s involvement. Many of these cases were much more
appropriately handled in the federal courts. And so it was those balances
that we were able to strike that I think produced an effective result. By the
time the River Cop Cases came up, however, we were going to transfer
that case to the federal court because the lead detective hadn’t finished
half of his notes and he’d been in deposition for a number of days and it
was obvious that they were trying to use the deposition process in any
way they could. I talked to Leon Kelner, who had become the U.S.
Attorney at the time, and said, “would you be willing to take it in federal
court?” And he said, “you’re going to get criticized; you just can’t win that
one and they’ll just be merciless.” When we were able to explain to
people why we did it, they understood better and the end result was again,
– 5 –
HB: Now during the ’80s one of the things that was somewhat unique to the
South Florida area was a huge influx of what was referred to at the time as
“Cocaine Cowboys.” Crack cocaine became available in abundance and
there was a huge increase in drug-related crime in Dade County. One of
the things that I think you were strongly supported in was your efforts to
really make a difference in that crime rate. I know part of that was going
to the legislature and significantly increasing the budget for your office.
Perhaps you can explain a little bit about how you dealt with the historic
soaring of the crime rate figures.
JR: Well, again, because we had prosecutors with caseloads that they could
not possibly manage with experience levels that did not give them what
they needed to be prepared. But, when I took office, we were right in the
middle of the fiscal year so we could not have to resort to the legislature
immediately and it was like putting your finger in the dike. But we
managed through it, again by using a system of triage, and figuring out
what was most important and what the feds could handle better than we
could and what could have the most impact in the overall system. It was
interesting because, again, people’s focus was on the feds. We were
handling the murder cases for the most part and the feds were handling
the drug aspects of the same transaction and it required a cooperation
that was very helpful. At the same time, I think that it was really an
extraordinary effort because sometimes the FBI would come to town and
say, “we want these records and these records and these records.” And
– 6 –
we’d say, “fine, can we have this, this and this about these cases.” We
found that it was a one-way street and one of my resolves when I went to
Washington was to make sure that people understood that the state and
locals who were on the front lines were truly the first responders and that it
was imperative that we have a two way street and exchange of
HB: One of the things I think you’re credited with focusing on during this period
of time was the impact of crack cocaine on newly born infants.
JR: Well, in the early ’80s we were just getting our fingers in the dike. I found
myself in Tallahassee on a regular basis. I was the head of the funding
committee for the State Attorneys and we had a unified effort. We
realized that we could not try to do it at cross purposes; far better that we
fight out the issues between big counties and small counties in our own
offices and figure it out. So I was up there trying to devise funding
formulas that were fair to all concerned and trying to stress to legislatures
just how critical the issue was. It was a good experience. It does not
prepare you completely for Congressional Hearings but, it gives you a
very good idea of what the process is and how important it is to be able to
play out and produce results. You also come to understand the competing
demands of the legislature when there is not enough money and when
deficit financing is prohibited. Again, the state system in Florida, as many
states have, forbids deficit financing. But by 1984, we were in pretty good
shape. During the early ’80s, I had asked the Miami-Dade Chamber of
– 7 –
Commerce to come in and look at the office at the height of the problems
we had and say, “what can you recommend that we can do to better
improve the office.” And we were able to do some really thoughtful things;
they really rallied around us; the experts came in from some of the
business groups and they were very objective and they would point out
something that we could do better and at the same time point it out how
difficult it was to do better because we didn’t have any bodies to put in the
system. In 1984, we also had the Country Walk Child Abuse prosecution,
which took a tremendous part of the office, and it was something that you
could not turn your back on. At the same time, I was running for office and
it was the most contested election that I had.
HB: That election was against Jose Garcia Pedrosa? For those of you who do
not know, he is someone who remains very involved in the American Bar
Association today and in the Section of Legal Education and was a well
respected Cuban Republican who ran as an Independent.
JR: Who ran as an Independent and we had something like 42 debates in that
election so it was a new set of problems – the election on top of the child
abuse case on top of an office just getting its act together as it faced this
tremendous increase in caseload. But then we started hearing about this
strange substance called “crack.” It came on in Miami and New York first,
as best I can figure out. And people did not know what it was. The
Medical Examiner, Dr. Joe Davis’s office here, started doing some
research on it and as we dealt with it, it was clearly violence inciting and
– 8 –
compulsively addictive; it produced bizarre tales of violence that did not fit
in with what we had seen to date with the Cocaine Cowboys. We slowly
got a better handle on it pharmacologically and a medical point of view on
what its impact was. It was cocaine but it was a variety of cocaine that
really destroyed communities. The best way we had for dealing with it
was having street cops make arrests for people trying to buy it. We
realized that you could have possession of a small amount of crack and
have an awful lot of impact on a community. We started looking at crack
possession cases and we discovered that, under Florida’s speedy trial
procedures, the Court never got to that case because other cases would
proceed to trial and that relatively minor possession of a small amount of
crack cocaine case would linger. Speedies would be about to run and the
court would give credit for time served or something such as that. It was
totally inefficient. That led us to consider the Drug Court and to develop a
carrot and stick approach that would provide for a judge who understood
the issues of drug abuse and what we had to deal with. It would provide
for job training and placement after people had proven that they tested
negative and they were admitted to the Drug Court. We worked with them
in terms of job training and we kept them under supervision long enough
to make sure that their recovery was relatively stabilized and then we got
them into programs in the community. We worked with coalitions led by
Alva Chapman, then chairman of Knight-Ridder and one of the great
public spirited people in Dade County, to make sure that the Miami
– 9 –
business community was available for these offenders. That was in 1987.
By 1988, it was clear based on independent evaluations that we had had
done of the Drug Court that it was working but that the length of time
between residivist events was increasing and that there was a real impact.
Now there are over 400 Drug Courts across the country and it has been
exciting to watch that idea take off.
HB: Tell us something about your work on the James Joseph Richardson
JR: I believe I told you in previous interviews, my major objective as a
prosecutor was to make sure that innocent people did not get charged, but
that the guilty were convicted according to principals of due process and
fair play. When I met with new prosecutors coming in at training sessions,
I always tried to emphasize during the first sessions what they needed to
do to make sure that innocent people did not get prosecuted. The
Richardson case had been around for a l~mg time. It involved allegations
that a man, Mr. Richardson, a fruit picker, from Desoto County, Florida,
had poisoned his seven children. Mr. and Mrs. Richardson went to the
groves in the morning, when the children would come home from school at
noon time for lunch, “a babysitter” was supposed to fix and serve it. They
went back to school that afternoon and got violently ill and six died that
afternoon and the seventh died the next morning. What caused attention
to be focused specifically on Mr. Richardson was that one of those
insurance agents had come by to sell a policy came by two or three nights
– 10 –
before this tragedy happened. Mr. Richardson had expressed an interest
in buying insurance and from that, the Sheriff and I think the State
Attorney at the time, just put two and two together and said, “that’s the
man.” Then they engaged, not in malicious activity, but in what I call
“tunnel vision” whereby they look neither right nor left for exculpatory
evidence that could lead them to the truth, but they had already made up
their minds and just did not look at what they were seeing laid out before
them. With the diminishing capacity of witnesses, you could not tell
exactly what happened – but I was able to convince the court that the
charges should be dropped. I was going to make an announcement that
we did not have sufficient evidence to proceed. That cannot be called an
outright exoneration but with the diminishing capacity of witnesses, that
was the best we could do. But I felt very strongly that he was innocent.
will never forget that day as long as I live: it was in the Courthouse in
Desoto County and Mr. Richardson was about as close to me as you are
across the table – about five feet. The Judge said that he was going to
keep him in custody to let people comment and I rose and said, “Your
Honor, you cannot ask this man to stay in jail one more night.”
HB: How long had Mr. Richardson been in jail at the time he was released?
JR: 22 years.
HB: Explain to us how you got involved in that case. Since obviously it was
outside of your jurisdiction.
– 11 –
JB: The State Attorney who had handled the case was no longer in office.
The State Attorney in that Circuit had asked the Governor to appoint
someone else as I recall. The Governor asked me to serve and to
undertake a review of the case. Though there was no new evidence per
se, we were able to work out that the court approved what we did. Robert
Merkle, former United States Attorney for the Middle District of Florida,
was a very vigorous critic of what we had done and, as I recall, wrote a
report lambasting us for it. But that is one case that I feel very, very
HB: Basically, what you did was go back and review the record of the trial and
the evidence that had been collected and made determinations that there
had been missteps in the prosecution.
JR: The evidence was clearly insufficient to charge him. But we could not tell
exactly what happened. But that case has haunted me because in 1980
or ’81 we prosecuted a man called Luis Diaz as a rapist, and I think I had
mentioned this is an earlier session, that case arose at the height of the
crunch in caseloads and workloads without any new prosecutors coming
in. Witnesses, multiple victims identified the same man. There were
variations in descriptions and it is an example again of how important it is
for us to develop procedures that ensure that eye witness identification
procedures are as accurate as possible. That’s one of the reasons I’m
focusing so much on how we use post-conviction DNA test results to
– 12 –
exonerate people and to figure out why they were wrongfully convicted in
the first place and what we can do to avoid it in the future.
HB: Could you tell us something about the Broom prosecutions. That was
something that was prosecuted toward the end of your term as State
Attorney and involved a long-term investigation of judges and attorneys.
JR: This started as, I recall, a totally federal investigation. But they asked for
our assistance and asked for some of our prosecutors, at least one, Larry
Lavecchia, who I think worked with them as an Assistant State Attorney
and then went on to the be an Assistant United States Attorney. It
involved charges of corruption against judges. It was a difficult case in a
court building that had judges and prosecutors and public defenders
working together and it was, as all corruption cases are, very
disheartening to see it happen in the system. Corruption is something that
we have got to be very careful to guard against. When our court system
becomes suspect, it renders so many other institutions of our communities
and nations suspect. And it makes it all the more important that we focus
on prosecutors and their role and do everything we can to make sure that
they reject tunnel vision; that they are as open and informed as possible.
That they are trained as well as they can be if we are going to make the
criminal justice system something that people have sufficient confidence
in. Right now, one of the issues I ask myself is, “is there any case in
which I don’t have a reasonable doubt?” And there are some cases that
are so carefully put together, the evidence falls into place, the
– 13 –
circumstantial evidence supports the direct evidence and you can be very
very certain. But if part of the information that is involved is a confession,
you have to go back and wonder what was done to get that confession.
HB: Very interesting. And I know you’re doing a lot of work today on that
issue, which we’ll talk about in a further interview. Now, the Court Broom
prosecutions were started while you were still State Attorney, but
concluded after you had left the office, correct?
JR: That’s correct. One or two may have come up before I left but …
HB: In dealing with that issue, did it raise questions in your mind about the
implications of that corruption on the rest of the process?
JR: That’s what I was just referring to; I mean you just wondered who was
doing it. It’s a terrible thing to do to other judges who are so dedicated
and so honest.
HB: Why don’t you talk some about your various election campaigns because I
do not believe there has ever been another State Attorney in Florida that
has stayed in office for 15 years. You mentioned previously how you
came out of the Liberty City riots and had really gone through a
rehabilitation from the point in time in which many in the black community
were blaming you for the failure to prosecute appropriately some allegedly
corrupt white cops to a point at which you were able to walk down the
street in Liberty City and shake hands with everyone in the Martin Luther
– 14 –
JR: I couldn’t shake hands with everyone; as mother said, “I just heard a boo.”
I said, “I’m probably after him on a felony warrant.”
HB: But how do you explain that transformation over a period of years to
create such trust in a community which as you say, during the ’80s was
just buffeted every year with another crisis. You seemed to be able to rise
above the normal political fractiousness that you would expect to see as a
result of all these significant problems in our community.
JR: I don’t think I rose above it, I think I went to the community often enough
and spoke and stood there and said, “we did this wrong; we did this right.
Now, don’t holler at me. Let me finish. I’m going to be here and you don’t
have to worry about it. I’m going to be here until we finish with your
questions. ” They knew I cared for child support enforcement. They knew
the efforts that I’d put into it. They knew I really cared about public
housing, the litigation that we brought against the county to obtain a
Consent Decree against the Public Housing Administration in Dade
County. They knew that I was trying with respect to police shootings and
the more that our cases were subject to cameras in the courtroom, the
community came to understand more often about how difficult those cases
HB: Now, in the race between yourself and Jose Garcia Pedroza, there were
many predictions that the race would cause a racial divide in the
community. As I indicated, Mr. Pedroza was a very well recognized
Cuban business person/attorney and there were still some in the black
– 15 –
community that harbored resentment towards the office in general and
you, in particular. Despite this history, however, and surprisingly to many,
you concluded the re-election campaign by carrying every area of the city:
the Hispanics, the Blacks, and the Anglos. I suspect you could teach
others quite a bit about how to go about trying to bring together a very
JR: I think you have to focus on real issues. You have got to follow up.
Getting a consent decree against HUD to reform the public housing
system required not just that you get the decree, but that you enforce it.
That you go out there and you get the facts and you understand vacancy
rates and how they influence the administration of the public housing and
the security issues involved. It is terribly time-consuming and it is not the
most glamorous work in the world, dragging around through people’s
kitchens where the toilet is falling in from the ceiling above into the kitchen
below. And child support – you have got not to just set up a child support
enforcement unit that gives lip service, but one that will take the slings and
arrows of the outraged women who has not gotten her check and is
cursing you from one end of the phone to the other. And swallow your
feelings and go forward. You find that she becomes your advocate
because she knows that you listen to her, that you….. one of the things
that I learned during that time that I found interesting is that if you try to be
soft spoken and polite to the person – even though they are cursing you
out because they didn’t get their child support check, they thought that you
– 16 –
were putting them off. Whereas if you said, “now stop hollering at me and
listen to me for a moment. I bah bah bah bah bah. They’d think, hey she
HB:’ They would think that you were engaged in their problems.
HB: Isn’t that interesting?
JR: And that I was not just a robot. …
HB: Just trying to get them off the phone …..
HB: So did you change your personal style because of that?
JR: I had to guard against my temper so I tried to balance it.
HB: Well, in 1992 Bill Clinton was elected president. When was the first time
that you came to understand that your name had been recommended to
him as Attorney General?
JR: There had been previous discussions, somebody had called me, and I
can’t remember his name … someone had called me about being head of
DEA. At the time, my mother was terminally ill and not expected to live
much longer and I told him no, I did not want to pursue it. My mother died
December 21, 1992 and after I got everything set up, I fell sound asleep; I
hadn’t had much sleep for about two days. Sam Dubbin called; made my
sister wake me up, said he and Mary Doyle were on the phone and could
Mary submit my name as consideration as Attorney General. I remember
– 17 –
saying something like, how can you be attorney General after having been
Dade State Attorney,· you’ll never pass the vetting process.
HB: Mary Doyle for those of you who don’t know, was the prior Dean of the
University of Miami School of Law and also had served in EPA under the
Carter Administration and served in the Interior Department briefly under
JR: I was so exhausted that I just crawled back into bed after telling them yes.
The next day was my mother’s funeral. I remember on the way there
listening on somebody’s car radio they announced that Zoe Baird had
been nominated, so I went on about sending thank you notes for
condolences and the like. I also had a memorial service at Riviera
Presbyterian Church which was the place that housed my mother’s cub
scout den. We went to the preacher who was a very delightful lady and
she did a good job laying out my mother’s life. Then one of the things that
I decided to do was something I had previously done when I first when I
took office: I asked each person in my office to come in and I asked them
if you were state attorney what would you do to improve the office. I
thought that I would do that because things seemed relatively settled and
calm an unusual pace for the office. So I had started one or two of those
interviews, taking notes of each of them. Then Kimba Wood withdrew her
candidacy. I don’t remember the exact chronology. I believe it was on a
Friday or Saturday Mary Doyle called me and I’m told that they needed
some information about me – I think it was support from women’s groups
– 18 –
and she asked if I knew anybody that we could talk to. I called Ann Lewis
who was the former wife of my law partner in the late 60’s and early 70s,
Gerald Lewis. Anne and I had kept in occasional touch and she said, “oh
my, yes, I think I can do something about this.” I picked up the paper the
next morning and it had Harriette saying that Janet Reno
would be the next Attorney General, but I didn’t follow through with it
because it just seemed absolutely impossible and I felt that was the case
on Saturday when I went to Saks to buy my one winter outfit that I bought.
It was specifically for winter and it had to be altered and so I left it to be
altered. Then Bob Graham called that Sunday night and told me that he
had just finished a conversation with the President and that I should
expect a call to come to Washington the next day. The call never came,
but when I got to the office, I called my secretary and told her to please
come in early as we needed to get prepared. I told my Chief Assistant
and I also called the lady at Saks and said, I need that dress, I can’t tell
you why. And she said, I will have it to you immediately. I don’t know, the
way she said it, it sounded like she understood; she knew something was
up and the suit was delivered to me before noon. I had stuffed it into the
suitcase so I didn’t have to go home. About 1 :00, I decided to walk
around the office because I was too nervous to do anything and at that
point, my secretary came and got me and told me that Bernie Nessbaum,
then Whitehouse counsel, was on the phone. He told me that we “want
you to come to Washington; bring a list of people who don’t like you, a list
– 19 –
of people who do like you, bring your income tax, your medical reports,
and everything you did wrong.” Both Chief Assistants took me to the
airport. Bernie had said, don’t let anybody know you’re coming. I tried to
hide my 6’1″ behind a phone booth and Kathy and John went to the desk
to get the ticket and I flew to Washington that Monday night. I went to the
hotel they told me to stay in. I was met the next morning by Davis who
chaired the Vetting Committee and was introduced to people on the
Committee. I don’t have all their names, but they were extraordinary
people. Vince Foster was there representing the White House. They had
an accountant going over my income tax returns. He finally said, “I’ve got
one big problem: you’ve paid far too much taxes.” I explained to him that
I made it a policy that I wasn’t going to do anything fancy on my tax
returns, I was just going to do it as straightforwardly as I could and so I
didn’t have any grief and I had never been audited. It was a point of
comfort to me. I laid out all the things that had gone wrong.
HB: And this was all before the Vetting Committee?
HB: How much time did you spend with them answering questions?
JR: I got there at 9; at about noon I said, “alright, I have a plane to catch; I
have a reservation back at 2:30 because I was told that I could expect to
be able to catch it. And Mr. Foster said, “you aren’t going anywhere.” And
that’s the first I knew that they were interested. They then broke up and
went into various offices to make calls and to follow up – they each had
– 20 –
specific issues to follow up on. What came out of this meeting was that
they wanted to, I guess, look in all the closets, find out any potential
negatives that could come out in the confirmation process. I think I’d done
a pretty good job of getting the issues together. John Thompson had run
against me in 1988 and he had made a big issue of the fact that he
thought I was a lesbian, and I had explained to him that I was not a
lesbian. I just appreciated big strong thoughtful reasonable men. So
somebody would check that issue out. And I had had a situation in which
we had served a search warrant on the premises on one of the members
of the Saudi royal family and the question was, did he have diplomatic
immunity. Richard Benvenesi, I believe, had represented him and
Benvenesi had questions about what I had done and so it was type of
thing that they would push through it and try and get answers.
HB: Where did Kimba Woods fit into that timeline?
HB: For those of who don’t know, after Zoe Baird withdrew, Clinton.
JR: He did not nominate her, he announced her, he didn’t want to get burned
again and she withdrew and it was in that week prior to that weekend
where everything happened. I don’t remember the exact date that she
withdrew. Vince then pulled me aside while the others were pursuing their
homework and explained that Web Hubbell was at the Justice
Department, I mean was Clinton’s person at the Justice Dept., and that he
was very close to Clinton. Vince told me that the President was one of
his best friends and that they had met as law partners with Hillary and
– 21 –
were all very close. He told me that I would feel comfortable in the Justice
Dept. with Web Hubbell there. And I said, well I might be asking to do
something wrong, I don’t know Web Hubbell, but I take him on face value.
They asked me if I would meet with him. So, Web Hubbell came over and
we had a good conversation and I felt comfortable and at home with
Hubbell. He had been head of the Ethics Commission and State Chief
Justice and he seemed to be a very agreeable person with a heightened
sense of right and wrong. They apparently had conversations with the
White House during that afternoon and so Foster then said, “we want to
take you to the White House at about 8:30 p.m. after the press stakeout at
the southwest gate is gone.” I found myself in the Oval Office talking one
on one with the President. I was so impressed with his knowledge of the
issues, with Constitutional law, his knowledge of the state and federal
partnership, that I thought was so important to support. He talked to me
about community policing,, he talked to me about domestic violence. I got
a great first impression of him.
HB: Was that the first time you met with the President?
JR: Yes. I met Mrs. Clinton in April when she came through the Justice Bldg.,
but that was the first time I met him. And I imagined we talked about a 1/2
hour to 45 minutes. It went by quite fast and we covered a lot of areas. At
some point he asked me, “do you know a Diane Blair?” And I said, I
believe I do, I knew her as Diane Divers, who was a year ahead of me at
Cornell. The President confirmed that she had married Jim Blair, of
– 22 –
Tysons Chicken, and that they were best friends. She was a Professor of
Government at the University of Arkansas and Diane was one of my
favorite people at Cornell. He said, “Diane Divers said I should nominate
you.” That was one of the greatest compliments that I had received,
because I admired her so much. So then I left and they were going to
continue my vetting the next day. I went back to the hotel and had dinner
with Sandy D’Alemberte who was on his way back from I think a MidWinter meeting of the ABA. I think he had been in New York with his wife
Patsy and Sandy stopped in Washington on his way home. He had been
considered for Solicitor General and so we had dinner and I said, “I don’t
want to block you, I don’t want to cause any problems for your possible
nomination.” He said, no this is so special – it can really happen and I
want do everything I can to support it.” He said: “Patsy told me to stay
here and do anything that you needed and that included buying new
stockings if that’s what you needed.” And so, he would come up, Nina
Totenberg would call him and he would get an answer from me for Nina
Totenberg and the vetting people would call me with specific problems.
began to hear from my college roommates.
HB: Everybody was being called?
JR: Everybody was being called. And finally, I was called and told that Walter
Dellinger, Ricky Simon and Ron ____ would be coming to see me
that night. Ron had clerked for and had been
on one of the legislative committees, I forget now. He was working in the
– 23 –
White House. Walter Dellinger was a distinguished professor at a big law
school, he was the Assistant Attorney General to the Office of General
Counsel. And Ricky Simon was a person who handled a wide portfolio of
things in the Administration. And I was still in the mode of reacting to
everything I had done wrong, saying, I did wrong, I did this wrong, I did
this wrong … trying to make sure that there was full disclosure. And Ricky
said, “well, don’t you have some pocket data on domestic violence or
something like that” And I realized all I had been doing this last two days.
The office in Miami had done a tremendous job of finding close out
memos and putting things together and following up and I was just
amazed at how well we had documented our efforts on various matters.
The fax machine had just come out at the time and I don’t know whether I
could have gotten nominated without the fax machine – because they
were faxing things up right and left and to answer everyone’s questions. It
was all unfolding so quickly and the office was responding in such a
remarkably wonderful way. And then Vince called and said, “you should
get ready for an announcement tomorrow and Bernie and I will come and
get you.” Well, I was still getting vetting calls Thursday morning, but then
Vince called and said, “we’ll pick you up at 4.:00 and take you to the white
House. Prepare some words.” I responded, “but, understand, I had not
been offered the nomination yet. What words could I have? I had not
been offered the nomination.” He responded by saying, “well, assume
that you have. But don’t assume it.” And I got over there and Bernie
– 24 –
hastened to confirm again that I had not been offered the position, but
they put it out on the wire that I was being considered. And they came in
gleefully and people started opening the door to look in, I was sitting in
Hillary’s office. And they would look in to see what a Janet Reno looked
like, it was like a rare bird and they were gleeful because the results
coming back were just great. Jose Garcia Pedrosa said he had been my
critic, but he was very gracious and very supportive. And they were
wonderful. People I had not heard from in a long time. And then I was
told, come on let’s go in and see the President. And we went to a little
dining room off the oval office and I was standing there waiting for him to
come in and he came in and came up to me and elbowed me and said,
“don’t blow it.” That was the first indication I had that I had been offered
the job. And then the Vice President and the President and I walked
outside of the White House into the Rose Garden and that was it.
HB: And so between your call Monday at 1 :00 p.m. and Thursday evening
when you went out, all that happened, the vetting, the meetings with the
President. What were you doing for clothes?
JR: I had my one short sleeved dress. I had a raincoat that had a liner in it.
And I had the Saks suit. The Saks suit was what saved me; that and
being locked up in this hotel. From that day, I had not really gone out
hB: So you went out in the Rose Garden and you were announced.
– 25 –
HB: And what were your comments?
JR: Well, Helen Thomas asked me, “what is your position on your abortion?”
and I said, I am pro-choice. I didn’t hesitate. Gordon was standing behind
me and to the right and said, . And I turned around and
said, “what?” And he just smiled. And then I answered another question,
I think it was Helen Thomas who said, “What do you know about being
Attorney General, you’ve had no experience in Federal Government?” I
said, anybody who has been the chief prosecutor in Dade County for the
last 15 years has had a great amount of experience with the Federal
Government and I look forward to working with them.” I answered one or
two more questions and then went to join some of the members of the
Cabinet who had gathered, including Donna, Shalala and Dick Reilly.
HB: Is this a good place to stop?
– 26 –
JANET RENO ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW – PART V
JULY 12, 2006
HB: Good morning. This is Hilarie Bass and I have the pleasure this morning
to interview Ms. Janet Reno. We are here for the fifth in a series of oral
history interviews of Janet Reno for the American Bar Association
Commission on Women oral history project. Today is July 12, 2006 at
8:30 a.m. At our last interview, we ended with Ms. Reno having been
introduced to the press as President Clinton’s nominee for Attorney
General. So, we talked about the whirlwind few days you had gone
through and suddenly, you were out there with the President being
introduced as his nominee for Attorney General and you turn around and
walk back into the White House. What happened next?
JR: At that point, Secretary Shalala greeted me and welcomed me and
suddenly it seemed like it was really going to happen.
HB: Now, how did you go forward with preparation for the confirmation
JR: I got a flight home the next morning because it was essential that I get to
the State Attorney’s Office and get things prepared for the confirmation
process, getting material together for the Confirmation process. I flew
back to Washington the following Wednesday. They had set up offices in
the Old Executive Office building. In the course of those next several days,
– —— 1-metme peoplEfWnowetEfgoing To prepare-mef6rlhe COnffrmaffo_ri _____ — – –
Hearings. I had big volumes of materials to digest and many issues of
Federal Jurisdiction that I had no experience with. This was a great
opportunity to look at the whole range of legal issues that we face in this
HB: Before we get too far, I have to ask you about returning to your office.
What it was like to walk into the State Attorney’s Office where you had
been working for 15 years, with everyone recognizing for the first time that
you were likely to be elevated to be the Chief Prosecutor for the United
JR: I was so touched and so proud of their work because, as I told them, I
would not be standing there had it not been for the work they did ·to
execute the oath of the office and to prepare me for the vetting process.
There were smiles and tears and it was just beautiful.
HB: I would think so. Now, in the confirmation process, did you have any of
your own friends or personal assistants.
JR: Trudy Noviki took vacation time and came up to work with me and to
coordinate.· She coordinated with John Kovak and others in the office in
Miami and worked with me to prepare to identify issues that might arise
and to prepare for those issues. John Smith came up and he and Trudy
were a great team. John knew people helping to prepare for the
Confirmation Hearings and sometimes would translate, “this is what she
– 2 –
HB: And who on behalf of the Administration were you working with in this
JR: I was told by Bernie Nussbaum that Jaimie Gorelick would head the
Confirmation preparation team and I worked with her and with Ron Klain.
Ron took me on my courtesy visit to the Senators and the Members of the
Congress. He gave me background information on each in order to know
what to expect. He made suggestions to prepare for it.
HB: Now, these courtesy visits consisted of you meeting with every Senator
who was on Judiciary Committee.
JR: I think that in the end we did meet every single member of the Judiciary.
HB: And were there substantive discussions or …. ?
JR: Yes, there were substantive discussions. It was a great opportunity for me
to become familiar with the judiciary members and some of the issues of
concern to them. What is the process by which the government witness or
whistleblower … a qui tam ….
HB: Yes, a qui tam action.
JR: That was an issue that I had no experience with. I hadn’t studied that one.
A I had checked through with Jamie on administrative policy and what our
policy would be on certain issues. Joe Biden had a lot of issues and Ron
worked with him and he was extremely helpful in working through the
issues, prioritizing them and assisting me in understanding the
administration policy on certain issues.
– 3 –
HB: How long did you spend in the preparation process for the Confirmation
JR: I was nominated on a Thursday; I came back to Washington the following
Wednesday. My college roommate lived in the DC area and she had
gone out and found me an apartment two blocks from the Department of
Justice that they would lease to me on a day to day basis,. This was
perfect because I could then walk into a whole lease., and so it was very
convenient. I don’t remember the exact date the Confirmation Hearing
started but it was three weeks from the nomination – 3 and 1 /2 weeks, I
think, March 2″d.
HB: So, during those three and a half weeks you were busy studying up on ….
JR: Studying, being briefed on issues. I mean years of people’s work in hours.
HB: And learning about, I assume, the Justice Dept. staff and administration
JR: The Justice Dept. staff and the issues facing the Justice Dept. Jamie
Gorelick was very helpful in preparing me for the processes of the Justice
Dept. The processes that withstood the test of different administrations
and the need for independence of the career staff. The kind of
HB: So, when the Confirmation process began, I assume you felt comfortable
that you had sufficiently crammed for the key issues you were likely to be
JR: Well, the night before the Confirmation hearings began, not the night
before, the Sunday night before (they began on a Tuesday), my sister had
already come into Washington because they told us you should have
family up there. So my brothers, sisters and uncles and others came.
And my sister was there first and we walked around Washington and
walked from my apartment one night down to the Capital and the Lincoln
Memorial and then back home. When we went to the Lincoln Memorial, I
was standing there reading the Gettsyburg Address and a pigeon pooped
on me. And my sister said, “that pigeon is doing the best possible thing
for you; now don’t get too big for your britches.” So, with that, I felt that I
had prepared as well as I possibly could and I should just relax and go into
it. There was more information than anybody could ask in one session
such as this. Much of what I could do would be to outline my approach
and tell them what it was like from my point of view as State Attorney.
How it was to deal with the Feds and what I saw could be corrected in
terms of creating a better two way street between the Feds and local
government and between the Federal Government and local law
enforcement. The second key was going to be the prevention issue. I told
them that youth violence was the single greatest crime we were facing at
that time. It had escalated to dramatic proportions and I talked to them
about my interest in prevention, providing for a strong support in the early
years of a child’s life to give them an opportunity to grow in a constructive
way:-···As 1–ra11<eaaoourw11-a11 fiad dorYef andwhaf-my·policies were, rsaw
– 5 –
a connection being made that I could talk about punishment and
prevention and that we could effect a balance. It didn’t have to be one or
the other, it should be both combined and measured with thoughtful
application in the first place. The hearing began at 9:00 and we probably
didn’t get started with my testimony until 10:30. By lunch time, I felt
HB: Now, how long did that confirmation process last?
JR: The Confirmation Hearing went for the remainder of the day and the next
day until about noon. That Wednesday morning really involved more
statements from the Senators. Then, that afternoon, they heard from
other witnesses. I think there were other witnesses, I’m not sure what
took up that day. But Thursday afternoon, I was standing in the old
Executive Office building because I was supposed to be over in the
Senate and C-SPAN was on. Jessie Helms was saying, now that Orrin
Hatch had deferred to him, and he asked Orrin Hatch: “Now, I understand
that Ms. Reno takes care of her mother and that she is an old maid. And I
understand that she supports choice.” So, I didn’t know where he was
coming from. “Well, I think she’s a woman of great character and I’m
supporting her although our positions don’t matter.”
HB: If you had Jessie Helms supporting you, chances are you were in pretty
good shape. When did the Senate vote?
JR: It was that afternoon. Linda called and invited me to the White House so
– 6 –
Somebody asked me, “what is your message to the women of America?”
And I said, “I am proud.”
HB: When did you actually get sworn in?
JR: I was sworn in officially that afternoon and the next morning I was sworn in
at the White House with my family and the members of Judiciary
Committee and others.
HB: Then did you go to the Justice Dept. and arrive for work?
JR: I walked into the Attorney General’s Office with an In-Box as tall as my
head. The staff welcomed me and made me feel at home. Traditionally,
the nominee does not go to the Justice Department until after
confirmation. They thought it was important that I meet with Stuart
Gersten, who was the acting Attorney General and was Assistant Attorney
General to the Civil Division under Bush I. He did a great deal for me and
was very helpful to me both before and after Confirmation in terms of
keeping me advised during the Confirmation process with things that he
thought he could share with me. We met at one point at Blair House to go
over issues with respect to Waco and the World Trade Center One
bombing. My first attention was given to the World Trade Center. Then
what I tried to do was have meetings as soon as possible with the
Department heads asking them what the major issues were that they
faced and to prioritize them. That’s the point when I was introduced to the
Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division and I told him that I had
– 7 –
professor works for me now. He had left academia and returned to the
Justice Department. So I interrupted what I was doing to go meet with Mr.
Brown, my Harvard professor, and it was wonderful to see him.
HB: It’s a great story. How did you go about filling the vacant positions in the
JR: In my conversations with Bernie Nussbaum about how we were going to
fill positions I said, “the President should be able to nominate who he
wants but I think I should have a veto power. I don’t think I should select
the nominees, but I would like to make suggestions with respect to some
of the appointments. I would consider the Administration’s desires to try to
make sure that we reach an agreement on others and it worked out very
well. It took a long time to get people confirmed and the Administration
did not foresee some of the difficulties that would be involved.
HB: Lonnie Guinier had been nominated to be the Assistant Attorney General
for Civil Rights? ·
JR: That is one of the big problems we had to face. Getting your team in
place and getting it up and running is so essential. I think that hindered
the Bush Administration in getting its people into place; it hampered the
administration’s response to 9/11. I think that transition is something you
have to be very sensitive to; you can learn a lot from that.
HB: Is there anything you think we could do to expedite that process?
JR: I think the Senate can do a great deal as the occasion presents itself by
— —- —- ·- · —–~—–b-eing·noif-partisan ariajuaTciou!f- sr~:i~:frmian-·ornonpartfsari iindTne-y’ve····——–
– 8 –
got to understand the politics of the nominees are going to be different
than theirs, but the men and women who are in the White House ought to
be able to have a plan that they can effectively carry out. Yes, there can
be those that have such extreme thoughts that it might be appropriate not
to see them confirmed — but it should be able to go both ways. And I think
it would be in the best interest of the country.,
Lit fV <
HB: I assume you were disappointed that~-oonie Guinier was unable to get
past the Confirmation process. Were there any other stumbling blocks
that you recall in getting the rest of the team in place?
JR: There were others as we went along. Walter Dellinger proceeded as
Acting Assistant and for all intents and purposes was my Assistant
Attorney General. Gerald Torres did not get confirmed and he was a very
impressive person and an academic on so many issues relating to Civil
Rights and Environmental Protection. He would have been a great
HB: You said that your first two issues to be addressed were World Trade
Center and Waco. As to World Trade Center, why don’t you explain to us
where things were at the time that you came in as Attorney General.
JR: The World Trade Center garage had been bombed prior to my coming to
the Justice Dept. The FBI began working with other agencies and, since it
was in New York, the FBI has a structure that adjusted for New York, even
prior to 9/11. They had an Assistant Director of the FBI, which was in
– 9 –
Attorney for the Southern District of New York has traditionally had handson say as to what course should be taken with respect to investigations in
New York. They are very independent and its been referred to as the
“Sovereign District of New York.” They put together their team. I think
that’s when Pat Fitzgerald, now the U.S. Attorney for Chicago, put me in
contact with the work that he would do so well in the following months.
Friday night, the night I was confirmed, Senator and Mrs. Hines, and the
President and Mrs. Clinton, there were others there, I don’t recall who, but
we went to their house for dinner. We were told that a blizzard was
coming and the snow was starting to fall in big blobs and by the next
morning the Storm of the Century had hit Washington. I was glad that I
had gotten an apartment so close to the Justice Dept. because I was able
to walk to work. I didn’t have many Winter clothes and so I looked like
almost a bag lady as I walked to work, but there was nobody out there.
The next Monday, Washington was still closed, but the first thing I was
briefed on was on the issues of encryption with respect to computers and
the internet and what we could do. The second one of the issues then
brought to my attention was the concern that applications for electronic
intercept surveillance were not being done in a timely fashion. I talked to
Mary Lawton, the person who was most experienced in this area and
asked why it was the approval process in the Justice Dept. was running
slowly. We developed a new, revised process and tried to provide the
— – —– ————- ——spe-ea i1ecess-arYWitnoufimpairfff~ftnequality–oftne review. rto1d-tne — –
– 10 –
person at National Security Agency the next day that if there was any
delay, to call me because I could see what an invaluable tool it could be.
As a continuation on the terrorist issue, the investigation by the FBI in the
Southern District of New York led to the arrest of the “blind sheik” in
Brooklyn. I saw the urgency of it beforehand, but was impressed with the
fact that the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York was in the
conference room seeking my approval. Before I gave my approval for his
arrest, I called all the relevant people into my conference room and asked
everyone to express their thoughts about the prosecution. I was
thoroughly briefed on the issue before making my decision. This was the
first time on many occasions when I used the conference room as a
briefing place and requested that all the people involved come and brief
me. I made a practice of trying to bring together agencies, lawyers,
people with different ideas to give me their views and it became a
standard practice for the Department. It’s one of the processes of the
Justice Dept. that I found most helpful – that I could go on as long as I
wanted like the Supreme Court and ask questions and call a halt to it. We
had a lot of concern with building a good structure to deal with these FISA
issues and I think we put together a good structure because we eliminated
wasted time and implemented a process where we began to identify
problems where information was not being properly used by the
investigators. We had to be very careful that we did not use the product of
· –·-·— · — -·—– — —<fur-surveirlcfrice for-crimiriann~-stiQalions~ Tnarcome~f oacl<- to–the-so–·-· — · ·—–··
– 11 –
called “wall” that was built. We were trying to get agencies that never
communicated to make sure that they furnished to the Criminal Division
information that could be addressed by the Attorney General.
HB: Now perhaps you should explain what FISA is so that our listeners can
JR: After the hearings that were led by Senator Frank Church in the ‘?Os
concerning abuses by the FBI of electronic interceptions and the like, the
Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act; they called it
FISA. When an application came in, it was referred to a FISA court, a
special division of the court that heard these cases that was appointed by
the Supreme Court. They considered the application based on affidavits.
I don’t think that any applications were rejected in the time that I was
Attorney General — but we worked together to make sure that we
addressed those issues to ensure that FISA was available only to the
President as part of his authority to make some decisions with respect to
foreign policy. The FISA application required probable cause and, at this
point, I think we should insert, in order to be technically correct, anything
we need to say about the FISA project. I think that I gave an
extemporaneous statement; the nuances could be changed.
HB: Ok. We can do that.
Let me ask you a question going back to the administration of the
department. This has to do with the appointment of U.S. Attorneys
– 12 –
from afar but don’t understand how it occurs. As I understand it, typically
when there is a change of administration, the existing U.S. Attorneys
throughout the country offer their resignation. Then the Attorney General
makes recommendations as to which ones will be accepted and which
ones will be replaced. I wonder if you could talk about that process.
JR: The process was expedited suddenly by the Chairman of the House
Judiciary, Jack Brooks, a long time member of the Congress. Brooks
asked Clinton to demand the immediate resignation of the U.S. Attorneys.
What we did was, as the Clinton Administration identified U.S. Attorney
candidates, they prioritized candidates in terms of the most important
offices and the most important nominations. They prepared them in an
order commensurate with the district and with the people involved. So
what I was doing was taking it one by one and the Administration, as it
finished the vetting of the prospect, would send it to us. We would deal
with background, review the material, check out the political side of it and
make sure that we had dotted our i’s and crossed our t’s. If we knew that
we had a good person, we would nominate them. An example: Mary Jo
White had been with the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York
after having served as an Assistant United States Attorney for the
Southern District of New York. She was immediately nominated as U.S.
Attorney for the Southern District of New York and was confirmed very
quickly and became a member of my advisory committee. Tom Korbut
— —— ————— —·-·was-the-cfia1rman ofthe)\tforney Genefrars-AdvTsary CommiftEie-un-der ____________ _
– 13 –
Bush and I continued him to ensure a smooth transition. Korbut did a fine
job of approaching issues in a bipartisan and nonpartisan way. He was
very helpful in that regard. Michael Chentoff remained in New Jersey as
the United States Attorney well into the Clinton Administration. So, it
seemed that although we asked them to submit their resignations, we
addressed them by taking them one by one. Brooks’ request kind of
confused the situation. But the process developed with the White House
and Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Office of Policy
Development, was responsible for the vetting process of U.S. Attorneys
and for the judicial appointments.
HB: What was the Advisory Committee of the U.S. Attorneys?
JR: The Advisory Committee was composed of, I don’t remember the exact
number on the Advisory Committee, but we met regularly to hear from
them about issues of importance to U.S. Attorneys. We also shared with
them what we were trying to do and our priorities.
HB: Coming into the office as Attorney General, you have your own set of
priorities and things on which you want to focus what extent did you have
the ability to direct the office in particular areas?
JR: That afternoon that I was nominated I talked about what I wanted to do.
ADD PRIORITIES: ( \
HB: Coming into this enormous department and having so much to learn as
well as having so many fires on your plate before you even started, how
– 14 –
JR: I tried but I was hampered by the fact that the prior Attorney General had
received a report recommending the resignation of the he~ of the FBI
Director and that was a real problem because I had not commissioned the
report, the report left something to be desired but it was there and could
not be ignored. Much of the focus of what I wanted to do involved the FBI I
gj../’;, t t .: ,_.., t’ tj J. J;
and they were kind ·of occupied by Waco. There were questions that had
been raised about leadership at the FBI at the time. I tried to prioritize in
terms of danger and risk and focused as much as possible to do
everything necessary to address the issue of the FBI leadership. We
began to see the need for the FBI to have a leadership change. From one
agent to another and from one office to another.
– 15 – I
JANET RENO INTERVIEW JANUARY 31, 2008
Hilarie Bass Good morning, Ms. Reno. My name is Hilarie Bass and this is a
continuation of the oral history of Janet Reno for the ABA Commission
on Women Project and thank you for joining us again this morning. I
thought we would start this morning by talking about your priorities when
you first came into the Justice Department as Attorney General.
Obviously, you had a very unique background for the job and so I
wondered how you went about setting your priorities and then
Janet Reno Well, I drew on my experience as State Attorney here in Dade County
and much of what I did at Justice was done with Dade County in mind
and similar communities across the country; how we planned together to
develop a comprehensive effort in community undertaking, whether it be
a civil rights enforcement action or a violent crime prosecution. We
looked at it to see what could be done to maximize our ability to fight
violent crime by forming a partnership with state and local governments.
They might not have experience in one area and the FBI might have lab
work that is extremely important. It is so important to try to develop a
plan that has a goal, not just of convicting somebody but of convicting
somebody in a manner in which it will enhance the ability of local
government to protect itself and to use its resources as wisely as
possible. So, I looked at violent crime as one of the priorities of the office
and the development of a partnership between state and local
governments and the federal government to ensure that. We had a
series of meetings. Orren Hatch was supportive of our efforts and the
other members of the judiciary committee attended the meetings. As I
recall there was a discussion of principles of federalism and we worked
on that for some time. It’s easier said than done but what we did, for
example in violent crime is to say right now there is gang in Broward
County. If we take out that gang member without taking out the whole of
it, we’re going to have greater problems in our efforts. So many actions
cut across jurisdictional borders, state lines, county lines. A gang comes
in and takes over the whole town. We need the ability to react as a
partner and we learned how to do that when I worked in the State
Attorney’s Office. There we … I’m trying to recall how .. we went first to
alcohol, tobacco and firearms and asked them to join with us in an effort
at career criminals. We modeled on what we did at the State Attorney’s
Office here and we had a principal federalism that we could easily
support our actions with. This was the federal government cutting across
lines, jurisdictional lines bringing people together and it had a profound
impact but with that came the recognition that you will not fight violent
crime successfully just by prosecuting and convicting. That’s one of the
essential elements but what you’ve got to do is fight violent crime by
punishing, preventing and treating the cause of the crime to make sure
that it doesn’t happen again.
Well, as Attorney General, were there things you could do to try and get
to the prevention problem?
Easily and it was like discovering a gold mine before your very eyes. The
office of justice programs, the office of juvenile delinquency in both
prevention and prosecution are two of the great sources in the Justice
Department for funding and if we develop a funding initiative that deals
with this issue, we are a step ahead and we had the opportunity with the
career criminal prosecutions to see why people were committing crime.
The Center for Disease Control made a presentation to me and I was so
impressed by it that I asked them to make the presentation to the
assembled U.S. attorneys who were meeting for their first meeting with
me as Attorney General and the Center for Disease Control had
marvelous facts upon which we could base our judgments as to what
should be funded and what shouldn’t be funded. Their studies showed
that the incidence of crime and career criminals in the country had
caused that along with drug abuse and drug sales and the like, but what I
learned as I said in a previous statement that we made as part of this
project, is that you are never going to solve the problem of crime unless
you give the children of America the foundation to grow and to be
responsive and to be responsible to the problems. And we were able to
work with domestic agencies, Donna Shalala and others, Dick Riley, the
Secretary at the Department of Education, I forget the name, I’ll have to
fill it in, she was Secretary of Labor and I cannot remember what her
name is. She followed Robert Reich, Alexis Herman. Alexis Herman
was another good partner in developing grants that would provide for
safe streets, healthy children and it was wonderful to see the agencies
coming together to develop the program and to do it on a basis that
would really make a difference.
Now I know one of your other efforts was to create diversity throughout
the Justice Department and I wonder if you could tell us something about
your efforts in that regard.
Well, our efforts just turned out, my being the first woman appointed to
the post, was followed by a spectacular group of women that filled many
of the positions in the Department of Justice. Jamie Gurelic was the
Deputy initially. Doris Misner was the Commissioner of INS, Ellie
Atchinson was head of Office of Legal Policy, Lois Shiffer was head of
the Environmental and Natural Resources Division, the Tax Assistant
Attorney General was a woman and they did a brilliant job and it wasn’t
very difficult to persuade people that diversity works and it can be
Did you think that was one of your unique responsibilities by virtue of
being the first woman Attorney General?
I don’t think it was a unique responsibility. I think people are, they need
to try and they can get diversity.
Do you have a view as to whether or not that altered the way the Justice
Department operated, having a unique amount of diversity while you
were serving as Attorney General?
I think so. I think women had an understanding touch when it came to
staffing issues, when it came to implementing situations. We had a great
team that prosecuted the church arsons that started occurring towards
the last part of the time I was in Washington and it was wonderful to see
the civil rights division respond. It was two women who were really the
spark plug in it.
Now I know one of your other priorities was the prosecution of polluters
throughout the country and I wonder if you could tell us something about
your effort in that regard.
Carol Brown and I are both from Dade County so it’s
And Carol Brown was the head of EPA at the time.
Yes. And she and I met and established a list of priorities and she would
develop programs that were comprehensive in nature that had the
support of the Department of Justice and the Justice Department’s
lawyers were working with the Division’s lawyers to secure convictions
and to take appropriate action. At first, there were disagreements on how
it was to be implemented. But then we moved ahead and pushed it.
Carol did a good job of pushing it and I tried to do what I could to be
supportive. She told me when I saw her in Boston at the Convention
after we’d left office that we had done .. without the Justice Department,
she would not have been able to achieve what she achieved and that
was a very good feeling.
That’s wonderful. I know you also focused quite a bit on immigration
issues and of course that’s become quite a front page issue today, but
obviously when you were in office, it was not quite as much in the
forefront. I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about your perspective
on that issue.
It was very much in the forefront. Immigration is an issue that will not go
away. It is something that we have got to come to grips with and develop
solutions for and I think when people speak out and talk about the
necessities of immigration policy, they must be encouraged by John
McCain showing in the recent elections, he’s continued to speak out on
what he thought was right, he didn’t back down because people criticized
immigration enforcement and what we’ve got to realize with immigration
is how did we get here? We got here because we were immigrants, our
families were immigrants and they came here and built a nation and why
do we draw the line now? I think it’s imperative that we develop an effort
along the southwestern border. It’s going to be a problem until we do so,
that provides for tracking and an understanding of where these people
are going and what they are doing, what the nature of the work is. But
it’s not going, by building fences, we won’t do the job because what the
average person doesn’t realize is that the border patrol, when enforcing
circumstances around the fences, can’t say “Stop or I’ll shoot” and get
action. He cannot use deadly force to protect himself or others unless
there is a reasonable possibility.
What are some of the immigration issues that you dealt with while you
were Attorney General?
Defense. I went all the way from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico,
down that long border, flying over it or by car and any time you talk about
developing an enforcement action that revolves around the border and
the fence, the people standing at the border saying “You can’t come
across:, it’s not going to work. We’ve got to have the recognition that we
need to develop a plan whereby people can come to this country, do
work in this country for which their talents or their labor is sorely needed,
in which they can fit into a need that had been addressed. It gives them
a chance to send payments home, gives them a chance to make their ·
contributions and to also recognize that these people are going to be
here, we need to provide services for them or otherwise the
circumstances are going to get much, much worse. If people understood
what work is performed by immigrants who are illegally in this country,
they would I think, jump at the chance to use this labor source to meet
the needs of the community and if you have domestic violence, that’s
going to be handed down from one generation to the next. The child that
watches his father beat his mother is going to accept violence as a way
of life. It’s important that they feel free to come forward and lodge a
complaint of domestic violence and that action be taken against the
person committing the violence when necessary. Doris Misner was a
very good Commissioner of INS. She never let herself get pushed
around too much. There were some difficult times before committee
hearings, and the like, but Doris, despite the tragic death of her husband
who was killed with Ron Brown when they were flying to a meeting, Doris
really stood up and tried to articulate a compassionate realistic plan that I
think is going to work as well as any other can but we’ve got to come to
grips with it. And Lou Dobbs has got to focus on what the answers are,
rather than just
focusing on the problems. I know civil rights enforcement was also a
priority for you and I wonder if you could describe for us some of the
things that you implemented to assist you in meeting that.
When I came into office, I found that Bill Bar, the Attorney General who
preceded me, had already launched an investigation into bias in
mortgage lending. Building on what they had done, which was to take
the evidence, do an analysis of the mortgage lender, see what was
happening and what was happening in mortgage lending was the top
people in the bank would not bias in mortgage lending but what
they didn’t know was that their mid-level people didn’t see it, didn’t
understand it because they weren’t trained properly or because they
were … did have some racial bias in their approach to it that if you put
together something and showed it to the· boss, and said we’re going to
ask you to join with us in a consent decree, we got people accepting what
we were doing and working with community agencies who taught people
how to maintain their homes and come together and build a community in
a comprehensive way, it makes a difference. It makes a difference to the
young man who may become a member of a gang unless we solve the
housing problem and it also goes to community building again as the
means of educating people better and as a means of preventing the
problem before it gets started. And we put a lot of time and effort into
following up on what Bill Bar did. I want to make special recognition of
the case that he filed to get the project underway.
I know also during your term, we started dealing with many of these
cyber issues of technology, identity theft and issues on the internet. Did
you have any particular focus in that area as Attorney General?
Yes, I had, it was one of the major issues that I confronted. In the
Department of Justice in the Criminal Division we had a special unit
assigned to, I forget the title of the division or the title of the unit but it was
headed by Scott Charney who is one of the most effective leaders that
I’ve seen. He had the vision, he knew what was necessary if we were
going to make cyber resources work for America and he educated me, he
and the people in his unit spent hours educating me as to what was
necessary when I went to a foreign country to talk about the need for 24
hour response around the world with all of us working together and taking
steps to make sure that we identified the person who is sitting in his
kitchen in Russia packing away banks resources and it was really
fascinating to see people try to learn to speak the same language, to try
to understand the tools of cyber technology and what a vast opportunity
they present for us. It was interesting to hear the Secretary of the
Treasury, Robert Rubin, speak to the fact that we have got to do
everything we can to protect the banks and to see that they’re educated
as to the need for security. We had a number of meetings. One meeting
was very interesting. We had a conference of the Justice Ministers from
around the world but it started, the conference started at about 6:00 in
the morning the Department of Justice and video conferencing
opportunity with my colleagues from around the world and it gave you a
The world is flat.
That’s wonderful. I know certainly one of the things that you had to battle
constantly during your term were issues relating to terrorism, which really
came to the forefront when you served as Attorney General, first with the
World Trade Center and then when Oklahoma and I wondered if you
might tell us a little bit about how you dealt with it, how the issue emerged
and then of course the specifics of those two incidents.
Well, Oklahoma came on the heels of and as a result of Waco so it was
complicated by Waco as well. We covered Waco and what Willie Freed
did that I think was effective and has had a lasting effect, was to say in a
Waco type situation or the Montana Freeman situation, we talk the
people out and we have a behavioral center set up so that there are
experts in terrorists or those who would be terrorists to help them
address the issues of what was causing the anger and the threats and
what we can do about it. I think it was important that we develop those
capacities the B~reau has that lets them know how, that it’s not just a
machine, it’s a machine that is no greater than the data put in it and that
it’s really an effort to coordinate that data. It’s not just having a web
page, it’s having a resource that you can come to that is organized and
that you can be assured of the accuracy of the data that is being placed
in the project. We spent a lot of time on that and I think that’s one of the
things that I’m proudest of as to what we did. It is a mind-boggling task
and one that needs further work. The first World Trade Center bombing
was a great warning signal to us all and Mary Jo White put together a
marvelous operation in conjunction with the FBI in Washington, I mean in
New York, to be responsible for the prosecution, the investigation and
prosecution of terrorist acts. This effort was good because they
undertook to prosecute, they not only.. it was necessary to prevent
further crime, further terrorism, but it was necessary to be prepared to
handle these cases in court and get convictions and build cases that
provided additional evidence for prevention so that we didn’t have the
problem in the first place. We didn’t have the tragedies of Oklahoma City
in the first place. That we identified and prevented the problems and that
we had the resources to do it. One of the big problems we faced from
the beginning was language. And it becomes so important to understand
the nuances of language and when we would get a transcript back of the
electronic surveillance and go over the transcript, the transcript wouldn’t
compare sometimes to what we heard in the room when we discussed
the case because the language, they didn’t have enough people who
spoke and were fluent in the language sufficient to
To accurately reflect what the people were actually saying.
Un-huh. So we spent a lot of time, and I don’t know what they have been
able to do in developing a language capacity that is superior to what we
were dealing with but it was vitally necessary and it was vitally necessary
that they learned how to share information, share data, to share
information that they have on the person who is at the hotel in Jakarta
and is seeing X person who is under surveillance by Y government and
all the governments are together and get the pieces together so that it
comes together and it is a pattern and it’s so important. I mean it tells a
story almost instantly. If you can get the information together and get it
into the computer and get it analyzed but if it doesn’t get there, it’s not
going to work. And that requires old fashioned policing — pounding the
pavement and the FBI did a great job on that with the terrorists that we
In the World Trade Center?
Do you think we’ve made progress in that regard, as far as cooperating
among countries for the sharing of information?
I think so. I fear that we’re going to be — the FBI is known as the Bureau
of Intelligence now. I’m told by the people in Washington. Instead of
criminal investigations and we’re going to have the problem of what we
do with people whom we suspect are terrorists, but we do not have
enough evidence to charge them. Where are we going to hold them?
What are we going to do in terms of providing a lawyer and we’ve seen
the development of Guantanamo.
I was going to ask whether you had any thoughts about the issue of
I think Guantanamo has got to be taken off the books and out of — I don’t
think there should be a Guantanamo-type situation. That it comes from
the courts’ decisions saying as long as it’s other soil, we can’t do that.
But, I’m so impressed with what I’ve seen the lawyers in America do in
reaching out to take cases and to represent people who have participated
in some of the most heinous acts undertaken against us. But, we can do
more in terms of preparing and preventing the crime in the first place.
And you would propose more sharing of information to be able to do that
To be able to do that effectively, was too . And you saw
the problems in some of those cases. I would come into the command
center and here would be transcripts coming back from around the world.
They weren’t looking at them. Comparing them one to the other. Noting
that in creating this transcript, there was this linguistic curiosity. And then
finding out from the person in either the FBI or otherwise who spoke the
language, that this word was essential to understanding who was doing
what in that undertaking.
Let’s talk about Oklahoma City. Where were you when you first found
out about it?
I was in my office and John Hogan, my Chief of Staff at the time, came in
and said “turn on CNN.” And there it was.
Obviously, your office did a phenomenal job in investigating that crime,
and I wonder if you have any insight about that process that you can
share with us?
We formed a team. We specially selected some prosecutors who had
good experiences. We talked to them. I spent some time with some of
them to persuade them to do it. And they did a really remarkable job of
putting it together with the bureau — with the other agencies involved.
We made a major effort in victim assistance and support that I think was
essential to the success of the effort and the people who were involved
with that effort should know how much we appreciate what they did. I still
have the picture of a little girl, one year old who was killed in the
bombing. Her grandmother was a member of the U.S. Attorneys’ office
Well, have you been to the memorial?
I have not. I’ve been to the memorial. I have not seen it completed as it
I actually was there in September and I have to tell you, I can’t recall
another memorial that was as moving as that one. They just did an –
The sensitivity of the people of Oklahoma City were just extraordinary.
Obviously, you had to deal with a number of political related issues as
Attorney General. One that became very political was Elian Gonzalez
and how that was handled. I wondered if you could share with us how
you first was brought into that situation, the decision making process that
led to the action that was taken, and the consequences or fallout as a
res u It of it.
The first thing I remember about the case is picking up the paper on
Thanksgiving and reading about — there was a picture of the boy.
And for those that aren’t familiar with that story, de facto background —
this is a child who was brought by their mother to the United States in a
raft. And the mother died in the travels. So the child came to the United
States without …
Came to the United States to a cousin. And people were so taken by the
rescue and by the pictures of the little boy, because he was endearing in
his photographs, we started working on the issue. Because we had
responsibility for placing him and as days went by, we were concerned
about the care that was being given to the young lad. What I wanted to
do was to make sure that everybody had a chance to be heard. We
researched the issue and concluded that the law provided that the matter
was a state court problem, not a federal court problem — not a federal
And this would have been the specific issue of custody, because the
father came from Cuba and wanted to bring the child home with him?
We had to, in that effort of making sure they had an opportunity to be
heard, make sure that the federal issues were explored and so we gave
them the opportunity to file the case in federal court. And, at the time, we
had no authority. It was just on a clean slate what we do. The federal
court ruled that it did not have jurisdiction. That immigration was a
federal issue, but that it — let’s see — I don’t remember how the sequence
unfolded, but the state court wrote a long decision saying that this was an
issue that federal government must address. There were a large number
of attorneys who volunteered their time. So when they would exhaust
one of us, we would have additional people to deal with the issue. And
the cousins would have another set of lawyers to deal with the issues.
And basically, the cousins were trying to prevent Elian from going back to
Cuba with his father.
Yes. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the ruling of the District Court
concluding that it was a federal issue and should be resolved at the
federal level. But, (long pause)
At some point, there was a ruling that the child needed to go with his
Yes. And the Eleventh Circuit affirmed that the trial court’s decision
saying that the actions of placing the case in federal court to decide was
correct, but that they were going to stay it to give the father an ability to
file the case, as I recall. Procedurally, I don’t remember exactly how that
worked out. We then faced the problem of how we were going to get the
boy back from the cousins and everyone who looked at it, Border Patrol,
experts, others said you’ve got to surprise them. You can’t tell them
we’re coming. You’ve got to go in there so it happens fast and it’s …
HB And just to give some background, at the time there was pretty significant
public outcry from the Cuban community that the child should stay in the
HB So there were parades in the streets, and barricades in the home …
JR Ladies in black standing outside …
HB The cousins home?
JR Um hum.
HB And as I recall, there was an order that the child should be turned over by
a date certain.
I would have to consult …
What you might want to do is have an Elian — let me get the …
Sure. What do you recall about moving forward from the
recommendation that you needed to go in in a surprise and take the
People prepared. The Border Patrol had been through what was
necessary to do it. The surprise was important. They had to go directly
in and it was difficult because they didn’t know where the boy was at that
point. But, I think they did a perfect job — coming in, grabbing the boy.
The picture shows a Border Patrol agent with a gun, and the people claim
that they held him captive with the gun. But, it you notice the trigger
finger is off the trigger and the gun is pointed away from the boy. They
were in and out very rapidly. We had a plane waiting to come to
Washington — to a suburb of Washington — where he and his wife and
younger son were staying. There was a lot of . . . there was great
disruption. You can tell better what happened here that day. People
were very critical of me. But they sent flowers and it was interesting to
see the reaction of people. Flowers and angry letters — all the emotions
that come when you have issues of family involved. And seeing these
issues played out on a large scale, in front of the nation, that followed
every detail they could, created an atmosphere that was not conducive to
resolving it in a peaceful way. Some people have suggested, well the
other cases have been resolved. But no case where the child was of
such young age on the issue of whether he should be returned to the
father, no case was there in point. And with the state court writing that it
did not have jurisdiction as opposed to the feds, it created a confusion
that we still see exist when cases involving custody are raised here in
Dade County. I was on Oprah and other programs to let people know
why we did the things what we did, why we did it. And as I explained to
the people who came to listen or who listened, I feel it was based on a
conclusion of mine that the little boy belonged with his daddy. And it had
nothing to do with Castro saying whatever he said. Castro didn’t have a
hand in it. It was a simple decision with a little boy that belonged with his
father. I went home, laid down on the couch and went to sleep that
Sunday morning, after the boy was successfully flown to Washington.
And my sister called me about 2:00 in the afternoon and woke me up and
said “Quick, look at television.” And there was Elian Gonzalez in his
father’s arms, with the most radiant smile on his that you could imagine.
And I knew I had done exactly the right thing.
That’s wonderful. That’s wonderful. Now looking back, obviously you
were the target of much criticism. Even from your home community — or
particularly from your home community — from so many Cubans who
were so concerned about the idea that they did not look at it in terms of
you sending the child to his father. They looked at it in terms of you
sending the child to a communist country run by Castro. But I wonder,
looking back on it, do you believe there was anything you could have
done differently? Or would have looking back on it, chosen to do
differently to get to the result of getting the boy back to his father?
I could have acted much more rapidly. But, I had made a decision that
each group should have its time in court, and so gave the state court the
opportunity to comment. And the decision of the state court is a well
reasoned opinion. I could have gone in and gotten the boy out, but I
don’t think — I think the combination of doing that, combined with the
background, would have been very damaging.
Now there was some suggestion in the press, and I’d like you to clarify it
for us, that there were ongoing negotiations to voluntarily have the child
There were ongoing negotiations that were obvious and one group of
lawyers would come in and talk. Another group of lawyers would come in
and talk. And we wanted to give them the opportunity to be heard. But,
they took a long time talking. They thought we had forgotten about it.
But, then we started taking action to take him into custody and the
lawyers had had the chance to negotiate. I got a call from Tad Foot
saying — and for the chronology of this you’ve got to look at the files. Tad
Foot said “I have the feeling that we’re concerned here and members of
my Board are concerned.”
And Tad Foot at the time was President of University of Miami?
Yes. And I said, “Tad, I just feel like I have been — I’ve given people
more than ample opportunity to be heard and we are ready to make a
decision.” And if you want to, he said, would you? I said, “move it
quickly if you’re going to do something and I will listen to what you have
to say.” Aaron Podhurst is an old and dear friend. He called me and he
had not participated in any of the prior negotiations. He knew nothing of
the depth of the issues. He went to dinner with his wife that night while
we were negotiating. [Long pause.] I need to look at the file to
understand the chronology and to make sure that the chronology is
accurate. But I told him as the negotiations dragged on through the night
that we had to make a decision and we were going to make a decision.
Podhurst was back home at this point and the two other gentlemen that
Foot had brought into it, Carlos Saladrigas and there’s one other.
__ de la Cruz perhaps?
Yes. I think it was Saladrigas or de la Cruz who said “she’s going to go
now. You’ve got to do something.” And at that point, the car drove up.
How does it affect you personally, or how do you prevent it from affecting
you personally when you make a decision that you believe in your heart
is absolutely the right thing to do, and yet it ends up becoming the subject
of much public criticism?
You just have to take it and know that it’s going to come. And we
certainly had more than sufficient warning that it would come.
I assume when you did it you knew that there was going to be a public
But you knew internally it was the right thing to do?
It’s unfortunate there aren’t more public officials who have that internal
compass to make those decisions. Bringing up another issue that
required a tremendous amount of internal compass in deciding how to
handle it was the whole issue of the independent counsels that were
appointed during your administration. I wonder if you might take us back
to some of the issues that you dealt with regarding the appointment of
The first issue that arose was Whitewater and involved investments
made. The statute says — and I’m going to have to refer you to the
language of the Special Counsel. It lists people who are covered
persons. And, clearly, the President was a covered person. I had to
make some judgments of fact finding and law finding and I had to figure
out what the facts were, which we knew at the time. And based on those
facts, whether there was specific and credible evidence that a crime had
been committed and that the covered person committed the crime. It
doesn’t mean that they committed the crime, but it means that I had
specific and credible evidence that they might have committed the crime.
I had to call it like it saw it in terms of the fact finding and in terms of what
we did with the information. Webb Hubbell told me that the President — I
resisted the effort to appoint a Special Counsel because I knew that the
Special Counsel’s law was coming up for sun setting. And what I said
was if I appoint a Special Counsel because of the people since the
Independent Counsel Act had not been re-authorized … Let’s start over
again. The Independent Counsel Act provided the standards that I just
suggested to you. The Independent Counsel Act was going to be heard
and then action could be taken. I said if I appointed or asked the court —
the special division of the court — to appoint someone, that would be
influencing the case or appear to be influencing the case, and I was in a
position of conflict even there. So, I would rather wait and see whether
Congress was going to re-authorize the Independent Counsel Act.
Congress didn’t take action. The pressures were building on President
and Mrs. Clinton. When Hubbell talked with the President and then left
for Europe on a diplomatic trip as I recall, he called while he was abroad
and asked Webb, I believe it was, to tell me to go ahead and to get a
Special Counsel so that we could put it behind us. We got the Special
Counsel. Again, I appointed the Special Counsel because I had the
authority under the law generally to appoint somebody to fill a position
that there was authority for a Special Counsel. So, I appointed one. And
I told the President, I said “It’s just going to be a problem.” We asked
Bob Fiske to be Special Counsel. That means he reported to me, but he
was outside my regular authority. He got into it, handled it with dispatch,
resolved many of the Whitewater cases. We were moving ahead when
the special division of the court came back with a “we will appoint a
Special Counsel, but it will be somebody of our own choosing so as not
to have a conflict.” And we got Ken Starr. Ken Starr took on a very
broad coverage of the Independent Counsel Act and we’ve seen what
Do you have any thoughts about the appropriateness or perhaps ways to
improve that _process?
It seems that the processes has worked fine as a Special Counsel. Like
when I appointed …. what was the name of the ?
Yes, Bob Fiske. Pat Fitzgerald handled the case, but there they had
responsibility to me to answer and I think that’s worked, and I don’t think
we need the elaborate pieces of the . . . Particularly since, under the
case that authorized the Independent Counsel Act, that found it
constitutional and authorized it . . . The Independent Counsel Act was
one of the most confusing pieces of legislation that I have seen and I
don’t think we need it.
And someone like Ken Starr, he did not report to you?
That was the problem under the case that authorized — that provided the
constitutional back up for it, unless the Independent Counsel reports —
can be fired by the Attorney General, or one other factor, then it is not
constitutional. In other words, the Attorney General cannot be
superseded, except when he or she can stop it. And their results are
provisioned for my stopping it, but it’s a very vague, unclear issue.
So, during all the time that Ken Starr was doing his investigations of
Whitewater, spending millions of dollars, subpoenaing hundreds of
thousands of documents, none of that was under your purview, correct?
It was under my purview in the sense that if he did anything wrong, that I
could remove him from office.
For a malfeasance of some type?
Yes. I mean, I could remove him because he did something that I would
not have authorized during the time I was Attorney General. We had
conversations with him about what were the factors that the Attorney
General should consider in determining whether she should ask for his
resignation. And he kind of around about that.
Did you ever seriously consider doing that? Asking him to resign?
I very seriously considered asking him to resign. One of the problems is
that you cannot tell what act was specifically the act that would trigger his
resignation. Because I finally asked for something that would take what
Ken Starr had done, match it with what somebody has done in the
Criminal Division over time. It doesn’t have to be in this administration. It
is the same thing, and te11 me what would happen to him? We asked the
Office of Professional Responsibility if they would give us an analysis, so
that if I can remove him from office, I have a reason for removing him
And that was not that clear. One of the things that was not clear is that I
had asked the court for his appointment. The court had changed it so
that it was a different person than I had asked it for. And Bill Clinton says
in his memoirs th~t I think he — the way he put it to me — that was one of
the things I most regret, asking you to …
Yeah. Appoint a Special Counsel.
Well, that issue actually came up on additional occasions while you were
HB Why don’t you tell us about other instances where you sought
employment as an independent counsel?
JR Ahm. I would have to go back over the files to ….
HB Okay. Obviously there was some pressure on the Office to appoint
special counsels in situations where you did not.
JR When was Special Counsel happy? [Laughs]
HB What can you tell us about the thought process you would undertake to
try and determine when it was appropriate to seek such an appointment?
JR I still had the standard that I had specific and credible evidence that the
crime had been committed and that this person may have committed the
crime; and every time a cabinet member did something wrong of the
slightest nature or a covered person did something wrong it were Special
Counsel, Special Counsel, independent counsel, independent counsel.
Some of them were attached to what Ken Starr was doing and we
watched that as part of the overall effort to see whether we should
remove him from office because if he had done something that would
cause removal of a Justice Department employee, ahm. . . . We had one
case involved Carol Dikeys ???? as I recall, and the issue was
whether we had specific and credible evidence. I had started reading
through the report that recommended the appointment of this
independent counsel and it just didn’t seem right and I took the report into
my office and I told Bessy Meadows, my confidential assistant, that I was
not to be disturbed, and I’ve never done that before, and I went over that
report in detail. It was a classic example of somebody glibly putting them
back together and you would see reference would be made to an act first
of the report and then pages down there would be another conclusion
and there was no way that we had specific and credible evidence
that. … so I wrote out the report and filed it and didn’t get much grief
I think many people would say that you created a Justice Department in
your years of serving as Attorney General that was very different in
atmosphere, some of those intangible things that many before or since
and I wonder if you could articulate for us what you perceive was unique
about the Justice Department that you oversaw.
I valued the people that worked with me, I was constantly impressed with
the quality of work, the depth of their reflections and knowledge of the
law, their ability to write. Lawyers are criticized for crude writing skills.
These lawyers just wrote clearly and effectively. I learned that it was best
to rely on all the lawyers and given the chance to be heard and sit around
Bobby Kennedy’s conference room table, lawyers from the Department,
Republicans and Democrats would come together and give me their best
advice. Only in rare occasions was somebody pulling punches because
they wanted to play both sides of the street. They had a proud tradition,
___ which traditionally afforded them independence and protection
against encroachment and political decisions dwing the time I was there
and people seemed to appreciate that, they appreciated the fact that I
asked after their children, knew where their children were and what they
were doing. It was because I cared and I think they were surprised that I
didn’t let myself get flustered. I think they would probably tell you I
thought she was a okay as a lawyer, but she turned out to be better than
that [laughs] and it was somebody that cared about the tradition of the
Department, that cared about the independence of the Department, that
cared about the standards that we used to ensure that justice was done.
Did you find it difficult to come into an environment where you had a
combination of political appointees and then prosecutors and
working through those two camps, was there tension there?
There was tension there and the way I resolved the tension was to let the
naysayers be heard around the table and give them an opportunity to
raise their points and let me explain my position and move ahead.
Looking back on your time as Attorney General, what would you hope
that people would say about what you accomplished during those 8
She took important steps to create partnerships with state and local
governments across the country; that __ 100,000 police officers on
the streets and the implementation of that grant and the implementation
of other cunning opportunities. We saw a Department of Justice that was
addressing violent crime at every level, that developed programs that had
an impact on crime and we watched crime go down every year for 1 O
years following that administration. That she made Justice Department
employees at home and at ease with her and let them know that she
cared and she cared about maintaining the Department of Justice as an
independent agency committed to the pursuit of justice.
HB Any regrets about things you would have liked to accomplish that you
didn’t have time to get to? Or things you would like to …
JR I gave some memos in March of 2000 and left in
January of 2001 and I wish we’d had more opportunity to carry that out
as a public landmark what needed to be done in terms of the information
sharing, cybertechnology …
In 2001 you finished an 8-year term as Attorney General, as you left the
Office what were your thoughts, having been first woman Attorney
General, one of the longest serving Attorney Generals in history?
Well, I went out to Andrews Air Force Base to say goodbye to President
Clinton and I came back to the Justice Department, went in and
and some members of the Solicitor’s General’s office were
there and we talked a bit and then I closed the door and walked across
Pennsylvania Avenue and down the street the person was being sworn
in. It was the last time I was in that building as Attorney General and
then I felt a big weight lift off my shoulders and the President was sworn
in, in office, I was out and I thought, this is easy [laughs] but then I said
no, I’ve got to go do Saturday Night Live tonight and the whole
experience of Saturday Night Live on the heels of that was really
____ How did you enjoy doing Saturday Night Live?
It was a wonderful experience. I never dreamed that I could have some
Well, at that point, you returned to Miami and what were your thoughts
about what you wanted to do at that time.
I wanted to participate in issues I had gotten interested in, the Innocence
Project, I followed that and served on the board of that organization.
And the Innocence Project just so our listeners will ..
Is the creation of Barry Shack and with the Cardoza Law School
in identifying cases in which people have been wrongfully convicted and
which their wrongful conviction is proven with cases set aside through
post-conviction DNA testing and I wanted to pursue that but when I first
got home I was upset at the condition of things I found in Miami;
education, crime, and so I decided to run for Governor. I lost but I’m glad
that I participated because people said you can’t win because you have
Parkinson’s Disease and you won’t be able to do the job. Well, nobody
said that as I campaigned around the state until I fainted for some other
reason, not the Parkinson’s, and that threw a monkey wrench in the
campaign. One lady said, however, “Yes, I know her hand shakes, but
I’m not worried about her hand I’m worried about her head and her
head’s just fine, thank you.”
How have you dealt with your illness, obviously it’s been something
you’ve been dealing with for many years now.
I just let my hand shake when it has to shake and when its’ difficult
connecting one word with another I take my time and try to connect it the
I suspect that in your race for Governor one of the things you enjoyed the
most was going around the state talking to people.
Obviously, it was disappointing not to be successful in that race, but I
wondered if you could tell us about your decision to subject yourself to
that after 8 years of being one of the handful of top Cabinet officers in the
It doesn’t, it hasn’t had much impact on me because it was continuing;
there was, I tried to keep politics out of the Attorney General’s office, but
in terms of meeting with people and in terms of trips and in terms of
meeting with members of the Departments of Justice in other countries, it
could get hectic but I had to come to grips with the fact that my brother
had Alzheimer’s and I needed to take care of him and much of my time
has been spent in trying to make sure that he was taken care of and that
has been to me one of the most important things that I could do.
Now I know other than the Innocence Project, you’ve been involved in a
number of other things since you stepped down as Attorney General and
I wonder if you could tell us about some of those?
I’m on the Board of Directors of the American ___ Society, again
concentrating on the issue of how to protect innocent people and what
can be done to prevent the conviction of innocent people. I have not
been so involved as I think some people would like in terms of what has
gone on in Washington since I left because I find it very difficult to be fully
advised and to comment without being fully advised in that world is too
subject to error.
I know you did testify before the 911 Commission?
And what was the subject of your testimony?
The subject of my testimony was what we knew, basically, they let me
talk about what was needed, and I tried to do it with attention to the facts
as they had them.
Were you comfortable with the recommendations of the 911
You know, I think many people find it interesting that as an Attorney
General the major focus of your efforts has been on exonerating the
innocent. Perhaps you could tell us just a little bit about …
I swore I would never be a prosecutor because I thought they were more
interested in securing convictions than seeking justice. My predecessor
State Attorney in Dade County, Richard Gerstein, offered me a job and I
told him I couldn’t because of that feeling and he said well you can come
do something about it and I had the opportunity to ensure rigorous __
mechanisms were in place in the office and that we were taking steps to
identify cases that should not be prosecuted because of inadequate
evidence and learned what Robert Jackson had said again and again,
that a prosecutor is the most powerful person. When they do good, they
do the right thing and when they do bad, they put the Department of
Justice and other law enforcement and justice agencies at risk and it is
important that we follow up and hold people’s feet to the fire ensuring
protections those civil liberties are people.
I suspect if you had one thing you would want to be remembered for it
would be that, making sure that innocent people are not being
HB Janet, this has been a phenomenal experience. Is there anything else
you would like to tell us about?
JR I would just urge young people who are interested in doing something
that will interest them and keep them involved, make them feel a part of
their country that they engage in public service some time in their life.
HB Well I think we all owe you a tremendous set of gratitude for the public
service that you have provided to this country and certainly this
Well, thank you very much.
Thank you, Janet.
END OF INTERVIEW
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