HISTORY OF THE OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY - CONTINUED
United States Attorneys retain considerable discretion to set priorities and use their resources to advance the needs of their districts. In establishing criminal prosecution priorities and making prosecutorial decisions, they are guided by the Principles of Federal Prosecution, which are published by the Department of Justice in the United States Attorneys’ Manual.
In 1940, then Attorney General Robert H. Jackson gave a speech that captures the ethic of the United States Attorney: “A sensitiveness to fair play and sportsmanship is perhaps the best protection against the abuse of power, and the citizen’s safety lies in the prosecutor who tempers zeal with human kindness, who seeks truth ..., who serves the law and not factional purposes, and who approaches his task with humility.”
Nationwide, U.S. Attorneys employ thousands of Assistant U.S. Attorneys and non-attorney employees. Assistant U.S. Attorneys originally remained in office only for a few years before entering the private practice of law, and they generally office left upon the election of a new President. Today, the decision to hire or fire an employee requires the approval of the Department of Justice, and some people spend all or a substantial portion of their legal careers as Assistant U.S. Attorneys.
As the role of the federal government and the number of federal crimes have continued to expand and the government’s civil litigation has grown increasingly diverse, the duties and caseloads of U.S. Attorneys also have greatly expanded. The authority and resources granted to U.S. Attorneys likewise have increased, particularly since the 1970s as violent crime and drugs began to receive greater attention as national political issues.
HISTORY OF THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
The first U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland was Richard Potts, who held the position from 1789 until 1792. Prior to his appointment by President Washington, Potts had represented Maryland in the Continental Congress of 1781, served in the Maryland House of Delegates from 1787 until 1788, and participated in the Maryland convention that ratified the United States Constitution in 1788. After serving as U.S. Attorney, Potts went on to serve as chief judge of Maryland’s Fifth Circuit Court, as an associate justice of the Maryland Court of Appeals, and as a U.S. Senator.
U.S. Attorney Joseph D. Tydings prosecuted fraud and corruption cases arising out of the savings and loans scandals in Maryland in the early 1960s. The investigation resulted in the prosecution of two United States congressmen for accepting payments in return for asking the Department of Justice to dismiss pending indictments.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, under the tenures of U.S. Attorneys Stephen H. Sachs, George Beall and Jervis S. Finney, the office prosecuted a number of prominent public figures. The most well-known of those cases is the prosecution of Vice President Spiro T. Agnew in 1973. Agnew, a Baltimore native who had served as County Executive and Governor of Maryland, faced charges relating to bribes he had taken while in office in Maryland. In return for pleading nolo contendere to the crime of tax evasion and paying $160,000 in back taxes, Agnew received a suspended sentence and a $10,000 fine. Agnew also resigned from the vice presidency.
Prior to 1982, there were no areas of specialization in the office; all Assistant U.S. Attorneys worked on all types of cases. In 1982, a narcotics unit was established so that a group of Assistant U.S. Attorneys could focus solely on drug cases.
As the challenge of illegal drugs rose as a federal priority in the 1980s and 1990s, there were dramatic increases in the number of federal prosecutors and the number of defendants prosecuted in federal court for drug-related crimes. During the tenures of Russell T. Baker and J. Frederick Motz, many major drug dealers were tried and convicted in Maryland’s federal courts along with the traditional white collar fraud and tax criminals.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, under the leadership of Breckinridge L. Willcox and Richard D. Bennett, major areas of focus for the office included the prosecution of large scale drug trafficking organizations; savings and loan fraud, including the prosecution of Tom Billman for defrauding depositors of Community Savings and Loan Association of Bethesda; cases against drug companies that falsified test results to meet Food and Drug Administration regulations for generic equivalents of name brand drugs; and public corruption, especially in relation to the Maryland state lottery.