After more than two years, it’s time to fill the US Attorney for Northern Ohio vacancy: editorial

After more than two years, it’s time to fill the US Attorney for Northern Ohio vacancy: editorial

The good news is that, despite lacking a Senate-confirmed US Attorney to fill the more-than-two-year vacancy in Cleveland at the helm of the US Attorney’s office for the Northern District of Ohio, the Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office has stepped up to take on two high-stakes prosecutions developed by federal agents.

Both have already yielded indictments — accusing 16 East Cleveland police officers of violating citizens’ civil rights through violent and corrupt means in one case, and in the other, charging financial misdeeds in the operation of cryptocurrency kiosks that targeted depositors in Cuyahoga and Lorain counties , as well as elsewhere.

The bad news is that reporting by cleveland.com’s Adam Ferrise makes evident that both matters should have — and probably would have — been prosecuted by the US Attorney’s office here had the top job not been vacant since Jan. 8, 2021. That’s when former US Attorney Justin Herdman resigned to allow incoming President Joe Biden to nominate his own US attorney for the job.

Part of the reason the US attorney’s job in Cleveland remains vacant is that the Biden nominee the Senate eventually confirmed last April — Marisa T. Darden, a former Manhattan assistant district attorney who’d served as an assistant US attorney in Cleveland — abruptly withdrew about a month after her confirmation without ever accepting the position, citing family reasons.

Backed by both US senators from Ohio — Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman — Darden was the first Black woman to be confirmed for the US Attorney’s job in Cleveland.

Since her withdrawal from the process, a new nominee has not been named by Biden, and Portman has since retired. That leaves it up to Brown and new Sen. JD Vance to use their joint clout to identify a strong candidate and make sure the position is filled — which we trust will be sooner rather than later.

Ferrise quotes a range of experts to note that, without a Senate-confirmed leader, the office is less able to use its political clout or Justice Department connections to “push for cases,” as former US Attorney for Southern Ohio David DeVillers put it.

That’s not automatically the reason that Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Mike O’Malley was approached by federal agents to take on the East Cleveland police and cryptocurrency kiosk cases.

Daniel Richman, a former assistant US attorney in New York, told Ferrise that internal disagreements, say, between federal prosecutors and investigators about the strength of cases, could also play a part in a US attorney’s office not prosecuting them.

At any rate, O’Malley readily agreed, apparently working seamlessly with both US Secret Service agents who’d been suspected of the cryptocurrency case, and with FBI agents who’d developed the East Cleveland police case, to win local Grand Jury indictments.

“I frankly enjoy working with our federal law enforcement partners [who] bring expertise, and … resources to the table that often times you can’t get locally because municipalities don’t have that level of funding,” O’Malley told Ferrise.

Yes, O’Malley has stepped willingly and efficiently into the breach on the East Cleveland police and cryptocurrency kiosk cases, but that is not necessarily the ideal outcome.

A federal civil-rights prosecution could bring additional Justice Department clout to address police corruption and abuse, as happened with the Justice Department’s consent decree with Cleveland on police use of force. And federal prosecution of financial crimes could potentially be more effective in addressing issues that reach across state lines, as with cryptocurrency kiosks.

In addition, a notable drop in overall federal prosecutions in northern Ohio could trace to the lack of a confirmed US Attorney in Cleveland.

Nationwide, Ferrise reports, the number of people charged by federal prosecutors during the fiscal year from September 2021 to September 2022 fell about 8% compared with the prior fiscal year.

In the US District for Northern Ohio, he noted, the falloff was three times steeper — down 24.6%.

It’s time to get a new US Attorney nominated and confirmed for the Northern District of Ohio.

About our editorials: Editorials express the view of the editorial board of cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer — the senior leadership and editorial-writing staff. As is traditional, editorials are unsigned and intended to be seen as the voice of the news organization.

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