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LOCAL LEADERS/Chuck Rosenberg - A prosecutor known for diligence and tenacity steps down

Posted on Oct 08,2008
Filed Under Local Leaders , Community,

Photo by John Arundel
U.S. Attorney for the Eastern
 District of Virginia Chuck
Rosenberg. Rosenberg,
seen here in his Alexandria
office, leads a team of
 115 prosecutors.

Managing Editor

U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Chuck Rosenberg. Rosenberg, seen here in his Alexandria office, leads a team of 115 prosecutors.  
Chuck Rosenberg, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, is stepping down Oct. 22 after two years at the helm.

As the chief prosecutor for the district, which includes Alexandria, Newport News, Norfolk and Richmond, Rosenberg informed President Bush of his intentions in a September 30 letter.

Rosenberg has not announced his future plans, according to DOJ Spokesman Jim Rybicki, who said an acting U.S. attorney will likely be appointed until a replacement is nominated by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

During a recent visit to the the Alexandria office of the federal prosecutor which oversaw the investigation of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, the office looked like the den of the world’s biggest sports fan.

Rosenberg, the 49th U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia (Alexander Hamilton was the first), presides over 115 federal prosecutors, who in recent years have scored convictions or copped pleas from some of the world’s most notorious miscreants – from Sept. 11 terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui to former FBI official and convicted spy Robert Hanssen.

Despite his high profile, Rosenberg is an unassuming man with a passion for sports. The small television in his office is tuned to the New York Mets game (not Court TV), and the walls are lined with photos of his son and his Little League triumphs (Rosenberg is his son’s coach). MacMillan’s Baseball Encyclopedia is the reference book of choice – no bulging tomes on federal rules for civil procedure.

A pair of boxing gloves hangs next to his desk, a memento from his staff from the time he wrestled with an unruly defendant in court. “In that particular case, the defendant was not pleased with the verdict, so he bit one of the U.S. marshals,” Rosenberg recalled last week. “I thought the court security officer needed a little help, so I jumped on [the defendant].”

Rosenberg has investigated or prosecuted some of the highest-profile criminals, terrorists and spies of the 20th and 21st centuries (think Moussaoui, Hanssen, Aldrich Ames and John Walker Lindh, the American Taliban). But as the son of a freight-loader who grew up in Brooklyn, Rosenberg goes out of his way to maintain a low profile, rarely granting interviews.

“Have my children seen me on television? Yes, and they’re completely bored,” he said. “Talk about keeping you humble. ... They think it’s utterly ridiculous that anybody would care what I have to say. They’re probably right.”

President George W. Bush nominated Rosenberg as the chief law enforcement officer for the Eastern District in 2006, charged with overseeing U.S. Attorney offices in Alexandria, Newport News, Norfolk and Richmond, and supervising the prosecution of all federal crimes.

“Not only has Chuck successfully prosecuted many high profile cases in his current role, but he has shown a dedication to the Department of Justice that is tough to match,”  said former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez in a statement. “That’s why I personally chose him as my interim Chief of Staff. His focused attention to priorities like terrorism and public corruption, matched with his personal and professional integrity, have made him a highly respected figure across all components of the department.”

Since Sept. 11, Rosenberg has seen a shift in prosecutorial priorities. Large-scale models of the Pentagon and the Twin Towers outside his office remind him every day of his new mandate.

“For years we did cutting-edge work in espionage cases, like Hanssen and Ames,” he said in an interview. “But since 9/11 we’ve seen a shift in priorities towards more counter-terrorism and national security cases.”

In the case of Moussaoui, who prosecutors charged was to have been a replacement for one of the Sept. 11 hijackers, the trial was seen as a barometer of the ability and willingness of the government to give a fair hearing to terrorism suspects. Rosenberg called it an “inordinately difficult case.”

“We faced issues never confronted before in a civilian court,” he said. “Many in our community were so affected by the events of 9/11. That this man could get a fair trial in the back yard of the Pentagon with all the rights that any of the accused would get made it a difficult proceeding, but a proud moment.”

Rosenberg said he hoped to tell the story of Sept. 11, its tales of horror and grief, through the eyes of its victims. “Even though we didn’t obtain the death penalty, we still told the stories, which were heart wrenching,” he said. “I sat in the court every day, and there wasn’t a day I didn’t cry.”

A steady stream of white-collar crimes, drugs, immigration offenses, procurement fraud, “pump and dump” stock manipulation schemes and gang-related cases also reach Rosenberg’s desk.  “If it’s criminal, it will come here,” he said.

Child predator cases can be the toughest to stomach. Rosenberg’s office has a team of investigators exclusively detailed to the Department of Justice’s Project Safe Childhood program, and the Eastern District leads the nation in prosecutions of child predators.

“How many get away? Who knows,” he said. “But our message to child predators is pretty clear: Leave our kids alone.”

The laws on possession, receipt and manufacture of child pornography are severe. “If you’re convicted, you’re going to jail,” he said firmly. “If you’re going to jail, you’re staying in jail.”

As a father or two, Rosenberg calls these cases both troubling and energizing. “What we see now is a coarsening of society. Pictures and images are getting worse and worse. Children depicted in them are getting younger and younger.”

While most of his criminal cases are brought by the FBI or the Secret Service, increasingly these cases arise from state and local investigations, such as the Alexandria Police Department, Alexandria Sheriff’s Office or Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney.

“His office and our office have always enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship,” said S. Randolph Sengel, the Commonwealth’s Attorney of Alexandria. “The most-outstanding quality or attribute that Chuck brings to that job is his trial experience. First and foremost he is a trial attorney. Someone at the helm who’s been in the trenches is a huge asset to the community.”

Rosenberg is a graduate of Harvard University’s vaunted John F. Kennedy School of Government and the University of Virginia’s Law School. Other than a short stint at Hunton & Williams law firm and as an NBC legal analyst, he’s spent his entire career in public service.

“I have a wife who’s both a saint who’s inordinately patient who has indulged me in this passion,” he said. “Would it be nice to have more money? I guess so. But I don’t think I would trade these last 17 years for all the money in the world.”

However, Rosenberg knows that in his current job, “they’ll throw me out at some point, regardless of who wins in November 2008. And actually, I don’t give a damn about politics.”

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