United States Attorney Ritz Celebrates Funding Awarded for Legal Services and Improved Court Responses to Domestic and Sexual Violence
Memphis, TN – Good afternoon. Thank you so much for being here.
As you might expect, I’d like to start by thanking some people. I want to express my deepest
gratitude to the following.
• Congressman Cohen for recommending me for this position.
• Senators Blackburn and Hagerty for their endorsement.
• President Biden for nominating me, and the Senate for confirming me.
• My past and present colleagues at the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Each and every one of you has made
me the attorney and person I am today. I especially want to thank those who helped put this event
together. Special thanks to the Stax Music Academy, which features the son of our First Assistant
U.S. Attorney Reagan Fondren.
• Thank you to the judges, defense attorneys, clerk’s office, pretrial and probation officers, and
everyone else who makes up the legal ecosystem of the Western District of Tennessee. I feel very
lucky to have built my career as a federal lawyer in this district.
• Thank you to previous U.S. Attorneys, and all my previous supervisors, who have helped shape my
skills and career. There are too many to name, but I have to single out two: Judge Gibbons and Ed
Stanton. Both gave me tremendous opportunities along the way, and both have served as mentors and
• Thank you to Associate Attorney General Gupta for her kind words, for traveling to Memphis, and
for sharing insight into the good work that the Department is doing.
• It is overwhelming to see so many good friends, many of whom have traveled from out of state.
Special shout out to high school classmates, friends from undergraduate years, friends from
graduate school, and friends from my first-year small section in law school. I also see several
valued DOJ colleagues from other districts. I am so thankful for all of you and humbled by your
presence. Special thanks to Courtnay, Ted, and Michael, who are part of the program today.
• There are also many members of my extended family here who mean so much me, including aunts and
uncles, my wife’s family, and my sister and her family. Thanks to my nephew for leading us in the
• I want to thank my parents, to whom I owe so much, but especially for instilling in me a
commitment to public service in this city.
• Finally I want to thank my wife and best friend Anna, who was kind enough to give her blessing
to this endeavor. Thank you for your love and support.
It’s the honor of my life to accept this appointment. Some of you know me very well. Some of you
know me pretty well. Some of you don’t know me well at all.
So allow me to reintroduce myself. I am a Memphian. I grew up in this city. I’m a product of
Memphis City Schools. In fact, 33 years ago, in ninth grade, I came down to this very room. The
City Council was trying to pass an ordinance banning “harmful material” at concerts. This was
after a particularly colorful performance by Motley Crue at the Coliseum.
I wasn’t at that concert, but I liked concerts and thought this was a bad idea. So, I rounded up a
couple of friends, and my mom drove the three of us down here in her minivan. She dropped us off
over here on Adams. I came in here and addressed the council. I remember the Councilman who was
sponsoring the ordinance ignored me.
There are a couple of lessons there. One, elected officials might want to at least act like they
are listening to constituents. You never know when the kid you ignored is going to grow up to be
the U.S. Attorney.
The bigger lesson for me was that maybe Memphis could use some more good public servants. So, after
I went away for college, graduate school, and law school, I chose to come home to Memphis and start
my legal career here. I’ve chosen to stay every day for almost two decades. I’ve also chosen public
service as a career.
Public service—in particular federal public service—defines me. For my whole adult life, even
before law school, I’ve worked for the United States government. And I’m proud to say that the
United States is the only client I’ve ever had.
Before I talk about what it means to me to represent the United States every day, I first want to
step back and take stock of this particular moment. Over the past few years we’ve experienced a
lot. A pandemic that has killed more than a million Americans. A violent attack, perpetrated by
fellow citizens, on our seat of government. An unacceptable increase in gun violence. The longest
federal government shutdown in history. A long-overdue reckoning with racism in the criminal justice system. And finally, just
recently, the tragic death of a young man in Memphis – a tragedy that is leading to an even deeper
reckoning, here and elsewhere.
That’s a lot to navigate for someone who takes on this type of role. But, no excuses. I’m ready to go.
I’m going to talk about three things. What we do, how we go about it, and my priorities.
First, what we do. In the U.S. Attorney’s Office, my colleagues and I uphold the rule of law,
protect civil rights, and keep Americans safe.
A key principle underlying our work is there is only one rule of law. There can’t be one for the
powerful and another for the powerless. There can’t be one for the rich and another for the poor.
And there can’t be one for people who look like me and another for people of color.
Justice, for me, is about upholding that one rule of law. In criminal cases, it can mean sending
someone to prison, sometimes for a long time.
But you should know that justice, for me, is about more than putting people in prison. For me, it’s
also about who votes and how hard it is to cast that vote. It’s about where pipelines or bus routes
go. Justice is about whether people in all zip codes can get a loan. Whether women have access to
health care. Whether citizens have affordable housing or clean drinking water.
Sometimes those are Department of Justice issues. Sometimes they’re not. But for me, they are all
That being said, much of my office’s day-to-day work involves criminal cases. Seeking just
punishment for those who have broken the law. A few principles guide us in this work.
We make decisions based on the law and the facts.
We treat people equally and fairly, while still making an individualized assessment of each case.
We focus our efforts on the most serious cases that implicate substantial federal interests.
Along those lines, what we do is qualitatively and quantitatively different than what state
prosecutors do. And the number of prosecutions is not an end in and of itself. Making the community
safer is the goal.
These principles are easy to articulate but hard to put into practice. My faith tradition makes
room for both accountability and redemption. I agree with Bryan Stevenson that every person is more
than the worst thing he has done. However, sometimes people deserve severe punishment for the
worst thing they’ve done. We don’t apologize for seeking significant punishment where warranted.
The point is if you’re doing this job right, it can be hard to sort all that out and decide on the
right way to proceed in any particular case.
Which brings me to the second thing I want to talk about: how we go about our work.
I bring some relevant experience to this job. Almost 18 years in this office, and a lifetime of
being a rule-follower. That’s why this career has suited me. I like rules, I like following them,
and it turns out I’m good at enforcing rules. After 12 years as Appellate Chief, I know the
relevant rules pretty well.
The bad news for anyone who isn’t following those rules is I don’t care who you are. You can be
behind a computer, on a street corner, or in a boardroom. It doesn’t matter to me. You break
federal law and we will come after you and pull no punches.
But I can’t do it alone. There are two groups of people I am already relying on heavily. The first
are our partners in federal, state, and local law enforcement. These folks face risks every day
that most of us can’t fathom. I am proud to work with these public servants. When officers do their
job the right way, it is right to call them heroes. I’ll also say that backing the blue, for me,
includes backing not only state and local partners, but also all the federal agencies that are
working hard to enforce federal laws.
The second group of people I rely on heavily are the dedicated federal public servants in the U.S.
Attorney’s Office. I want every current employee of my office to stand up and be recognized.
It’s a privilege to work with you all. One reason I agreed to be a candidate for this job was I
already knew my team. We’re one of the biggest law firms in West Tennessee. I think we’re the best.
We have two offices, covering 22 counties. We don’t just prosecute criminal cases. We represent
the United States in all types of civil litigation. We collect debts for the U.S. Treasury. We
handle our own appellate and post- conviction dockets. It’s a lot.
The Assistant U.S. Attorneys and support staff who carry out these responsibilities are
hardworking. They are experienced. They are smart. I’ve worked with these folks for almost 18
years. As long as I am in charge I will listen to them, rely on them, and stick up for them.
Ida B. Wells said—just after being forcibly exiled from this city—that “The way to right wrongs is
to turn the light of truth upon them.” My team works hard to right wrongs by seeking the light of
truth. By seeking justice. Whenever you hear someone complain about the federal government for
whatever reason—just know that every day your life is better, and your family is safer, because of
federal employees like my colleagues in the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The last thing I want to talk about are my priorities. We have a lot on our plate.
In Memphis, Jackson, and all of West Tennessee, communities are reeling from violent crime.
Addressing this violence is a top priority. We are continuing our robust efforts prosecuting
federal carjacking, robbery, and firearm cases. We focus our efforts on the most significant
drivers of violence. We also are taking a hard look at the supply side of the gun violence problem:
where these crime guns are coming from, and how they are getting into the wrong hands. And we are
coupling enforcement of these laws with prevention and intervention efforts.
We spend a lot of time prosecuting drug trafficking organizations. Unfortunately, West Tennessee is
a distribution center not only for legal goods, but illegal goods too. Our law enforcement partners
are seizing large amounts of fentanyl, methamphetamine, and heroin, among other lethal drugs. These
drugs—especially fentanyl—are affecting every cross-section of our community. For us it’s a fight to save lives.
We are doubling down on our efforts in prosecuting fraud and economic crimes. We’ve brought several
new cases in this area in the last few months, including cases involving fraud on pandemic relief
Finally, even before the events of last month, I had asked my team how we could better protect
national security and civil rights in West Tennessee. This is a top priority of mine. We are
vigorously enforcing civil rights and hate crimes statutes.
A related issue is the rise in domestic terrorism and political violence in this country. From
Charleston to Charlottesville to Pittsburgh to El Paso to Buffalo—the threat of hate-based and
extremist violence is real. My oath commands me to protect our country from threats foreign and
domestic. I’m going to do that.
This is a mission that dates to the Department’s founding. A hundred and fifty years ago there were
people in this area of the country who were seeking to deny the promises of the Second Founding and
the Reconstruction Amendments to Black Americans.
The Department was created to counter those violent extremists and protect civil rights for all.
Attorney General Garland has said it’s in the Department’s DNA. I agree, and we will pursue
accountability for anyone who tramples on other people’s civil rights or uses violence to achieve
Those are just some of the areas where we’re directing our efforts. It’s a non-exhaustive list.
Upholding the rule of law necessarily means that we don’t focus only on one set of crimes. We carry
a diverse portfolio, and we will not hesitate to use the full scope of the tools Congress has given us.
So that is what we do, how we do it, and a little about our priorities. Through it all, the only
thing that will motivate me every hour of every day is what is best for my client, the United
States of America.
I’ll end where I started, both today and in life: the City of Memphis. Our office serves one and a
half million people in 22 counties, and I take that responsibility seriously. I’ll be visiting many
of those counties in the near future.
But this city, where we are today, is not just where I live, it’s my home. My wife and I love it
here. As I said recently, I want the City of Memphis to be a place where justice is done. That’s
the animating principle of my career.
One of my heroes sings about “a promised land.” For me, the work that we do to uphold the rule of
law, protect civil rights, and keep Americans safe in Memphis and West Tennessee, is my own way of
seeking a piece of that “promised land.”
I promise I’ll give it everything I have. Thank you again for being here today.
For more information, please contact Public Information Officer Cherri Green at (901) 544-4231 or email@example.com. Follow @WDTNNews on Twitter for office news and updates.