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Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Florida

Monday, November 14, 2016

Reno Was a Public Serveant Who Didn't Take Herself Too Seriously

Commentary by Wifredo Ferrer, Daily Business Review

November 7, 2016

Though it was a long time ago, I vividly remember the day I met the woman who would eventually become my boss, my colleague, my friend and my mentor.

As a high school student at Hialeah-Miami Lakes, Janet Reno came to our class to talk about community safety and the value of public service. At the time, Reno was the Miami-Dade state attorney. Despite the demands of her job, Reno always made it a priority to connect with our community's youth. Her accessibility and core belief in the principle of justice for all was as clear to me that day as it was when I had the honor to work closely with her when she was the attorney general of the United States.

Though she would ultimately return to the community she loved, Reno left Miami to begin her tenure as U.S. attorney general in 1993. In 1995 I was fortunate enough to begin working with her, serving as her counsel and deputy chief of staff. She was the ideal and consummate public servant who believed deeply in the mission of the Department of Justice. She was tough and believed that those who violate our nation's laws must be punished and deterred.

But her view of justice transcended the role of the nation's top prosecutor. Reno also firmly believed that all Americans should have true and meaningful access to the law, and she demanded that we always remember that those in need, especially children, deserve a voice. The country witnessed these traits over and over again during her tenure. Indeed, as a member of the president's Cabinet, much of what she did played out in the public eye.

But I was blessed to also work with Reno behind closed doors, out of the glaring lights that she became accustomed to as attorney general. It is hard to appreciate the number of decisions an attorney general must make on a daily basis. Some are small and some are large, but each one is important to someone.

And regardless of the magnitude of the issue before her, the players involved or the gravity of the decision with which she was faced, her approach was consistent – she was guided by the evidence and the law and called it as she saw it.

As a young lawyer navigating the halls of Justice, I saw Reno lead by her values and principles. She was guided by an unwavering sense of right and wrong, and that was a powerful thing to witness. She was firm and decisive but never arrogant. Reno was a good listener but never allowed herself to be swayed by popular opinion. Reno was never tempted to take the easy way out simply to avoid hard choices. Her character and integrity would not allow that.

In addition to witnessing her leadership and character as attorney general, I also had the great fortune to be touched by her warmth, humanity and sense of humor.

Many Americans fondly recall Reno dancing with Will Ferrell on "Saturday Night Live." She reminded us to always take our responsibilities seriously but never to take ourselves too seriously.

Reno cared deeply about the professional and personal lives of all of her colleagues and tried to know everyone's name and life story. Reno taught me and so many others what it means to be a leader.

When I had the privilege to be sworn in as U.S. attorney, Reno was there. Although she was in very poor health, it meant so much to have her by my side.

Though she has left us, in many ways she will always be by my side, and her life and work will continue to inspire us all.

Wifredo Ferrer in U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Florida.
Updated November 14, 2016