U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch announces the indictment of State Senator...

U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch announces the indictment of State Senator John Sampson charged with embezzlement and obstruction of justice on May 6, 2013 in Brooklyn. Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

Kenneth Thompson remembers leaving a Brooklyn federal courtroom with Loretta Lynch after they won convictions in the police station house beating and torture of a Haitian immigrant, Abner Louima. They ran a gauntlet of cursing supporters of the officers.

"Loretta walked out with her head held high and never responded, walked with dignity because she knew she had done justice," said Thompson, now the Brooklyn district attorney. It was emblematic, he said, of how she has conducted herself throughout her career as a prosecutor.

"She has quietly gone about doing justice without a lot of fanfare," Thompson said of President Barack Obama's nominee to become the next U.S. attorney general.

Her admirers say she has won notice and respect in the legal community and government while making scant effort to attract the limelight, even leaving the job of spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District of New York vacant for the last several months after the last one retired.

That's in contrast to the more publicity-conscious office for the Southern District, located across the East River, which has up to four press officers at a time, and a tradition, unlike Lynch's office, of being led by high-profile prosecutors such as the current U.S. attorney, Preet Bharara, and a predecessor, Rudy Giuliani.

But the two offices have conducted similar missions. As Bharara has become a vocal critic of endemic political corruption in Albany, for example, Lynch's office has indicted almost a half-dozen present and former state and city lawmakers, all Democrats.

Among the few with a bad word to say about her publicly has been Rep. Michael Grimm of Staten Island. Lynch's office has indicted him on tax charges, and he has called the case a political vendetta on the part of the Obama administration against a Republican.

In addition to public corruption indictments, Lynch's office has been a national leader in prosecuting high-profile terrorism cases. They include a subway bombing plot and the case of two Long Islanders who are awaiting sentencing for attempting to join the al-Qaida branch in Yemen.

Also, under Lynch, the office has been involved in a number of big-money civil settlements with prominent banks, including one in which HSBC settled a money laundering case for $1.9 billion in 2012.

As she accepted Obama's nomination at the White House Saturday, Lynch said, "The Department of Justice is the only cabinet department named for an ideal." She was joined at the announcement by her husband, Stephen Hargrove. She has two stepchildren and uses the surname Hargrove in her personal life.

Confronting injustice, in Lynch's telling, came to her early, growing up in Durham, North Carolina. Her mother became a librarian and her father was a Baptist preacher.

She came of age in the 1970s at a time when integration struggles there were "pretty much behind us," she once said. But the racism that still existed was more subtle.

She attended a mostly white elementary school and recalled scoring high on a standardized test. School administrators demanded she take it again, Lynch told The Wall Street Journal this year.

Her mother fought back, arguing that the score would not have been questioned if Lynch were white. But she took the test again, and to her mother's "great delight" scored even higher, she said.

In one of her few speeches about her own experiences, Lynch talked about how she once saw her mother working as a hand in a cotton field to get money for the family and asked her why she was doing that. Her mother replied that it was to ensure that her daughter would not have to, Lynch recalled.

Lynch went on to Harvard University, where she was an English major, and continued on to Harvard Law School, from which she graduated in 1981. She worked on Wall Street before joining the U.S. attorney's office in 1990. She rose quickly, leading the Long Island branch from 1994 to 1998, and led anti-corruption prosecutions of officials in the Town of Brookhaven.

Though some were eventually convicted and others acquitted, she said afterward, "All the trials that we had revealed the inner workings of Brookhaven government in a way the people had a right to see."

First from 1999 to 2001 and more recently since 2010, Lynch was U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York. Between stints as head of the Eastern District, Lynch worked in private practice. According to numerous sources, many of her former colleagues wished so much for her to take charge of the office the second time that they lobbied for her to be named and then to accept the position.

Colleagues past and present rave about Lynch's people skills.

She always "listens to both sides -- you might not get all you want from her, but you always leave feeling she was fair," said Joseph Conway, a Mineola attorney, who started as a prosecutor with Lynch in the U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn.

Richard Donoghue, who was chief of the criminal division in Lynch's office and is now a senior vice president and the chief of litigation for CA in Islandia, agreed, saying, "She's exactly what you want in an attorney general -- a dedicated leader of unquestionable integrity who follows the facts and applies the law."

Thompson recalled that the Louima trial showed Lynch's consummate legal professionalism in preparation and in the examination of witnesses. She was always "unflappable under pressure," he said.

At the time of the Louima trial in 1999, Lynch's former hometown newspaper in Durham, the Herald-Sun, interviewed her and her father, Lorenzo.

Lynch's father was quoted as saying: "I often wondered what she would become. . . . She's always been gifted, and multitalented . . . there's no telling where Loretta will end up. . . . We're proud of her."

Lynch told the newspaper that she had become a federal prosecutor because "I like being on what I view as the good guys' side of the law."

At the White House Saturday, Lynch pledged that if confirmed as attorney general, "I will work every day to safeguard our citizens, our liberties, our rights, and this great nation, which have given so much to me and my family."

Highlights of her career

Highlights of Lynch's career as an assistant U.S. attorney (1990-1999) and the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York (1999-2001, 2010-present):

-- Prosecution of the Green Dragon Street gang in New York City. Seven members of gang received life sentences on murder and racketeering charges.

-- Prosecution of officials in corruption cases in the Town of Brookhaven. Mixed results with several of those indicted convicted, others acquitted.

-- Report condemning conditions and suggesting improvements at the Nassau County jail following the conviction of five correction officers on charges up to manslaughter after an inmate was killed in 1999. The county reached a settlement with the government and federal monitoring of the jail ended in 2005.

-- Prosecution of New York City police officers in the 1997 brutalizing of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima. Two officers were convicted, with one sentenced to 30 years; another to 5 years. Three eventually were acquitted.

-- Prosecutions of street gang members on Long Island and in Brooklyn and Queens. Numerous convictions on murder and other charges involving violence.

-- Involvement in the government's collecting billions of dollars as a result of civil settlements with HSBC Holdings in money laundering in 2012 and with Citigroup earlier this year.

-- Prosecutions of a half-dozen city, state and federal politicians, most recently of Rep. Michael Grimm (R-Staten Island), awaiting trial on tax evasion and other charges related to a restaurant he once owned. State Senator John Sampson also is awaiting trial; four others have been convicted.

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