It may dismay some in Miami's elite legal circles, but a divorce court judge with zero federal law enforcement experience is emerging as the front runner for the U.S. attorney’s position in South Florida.
Thanks to the influence of Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Ariana Fajardo Orshan has surfaced as the top candidate after months of dithering by President Donald Trump and the Justice Department over filling the coveted position.
Fajardo, a 46-year-old Cuban American who attended Florida International University, worked for the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office after graduating from Nova Southeastern law school, but she has devoted most of her career to family legal matters. She is currently serving as the administrative judge for the county's family law division, after Gov. Rick Scott appointed her in 2012 and she won election to the bench without opposition two years later.
Like Rubio, Scott is a major supporter of her nomination to become U.S. attorney of the 250-lawyer office. But her lack of stature in federal law enforcement concerns many in the office, one of the busiest in the country.
Fajardo has been active in many professional organizations, but one stands out above the rest: the Federal Society, an organization of conservatives who tout reforms of the legal system that hew to the original intent of the U.S. Constitution and who count the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as the group’s champion.
Fajardo declined to comment about her candidacy for the U.S. attorney's job. She was already interviewed by Justice Department officials and is expected to head to Washington for another round of interviews this week.
Through a Miami-Dade circuit court spokesperson, Fajardo told a Miami Herald reporter “that currently she has no information that she can share with you, but should that change in the future, she will certainly call you back.”
Her lack of traditional credentials for the U.S. attorney’s job — serving as a federal prosecutor after graduating from a top law school — makes her potential nomination unusual. She’s also a woman, and no female has ever served as the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Florida.
But Rubio, the Miami Republican who bitterly lost to Trump in the GOP primary for president, now wants Fajardo for the job, according to Politico.
Rubio initially bypassed the longstanding process of using the Federal Judicial Nominating Commission in Florida to recommend three candidates for the U.S. attorney’s job. But, so far, none of his picks has panned out.
Back in the spring, Rubio’s first choice was John Couriel, who formerly worked as a prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office in Miami and attended Harvard College and Harvard Law School. But he was quoted in a news story saying he voted for former Gov. Jeb Bush in the 2016 presidential election, undermining his future bid for the U.S. attorney’s position.
Rubio also recommended Jose Felix Diaz, a state representative from Miami who is running for a vacant state Senate seat. A land-use attorney, Diaz graduated from the University of Miami and Columbia University Law School. Another Rubio candidate: Jon Sale, a former federal prosecutor in New York and Miami who attended the University of Pennsylvania and NYU Law School. Sale is also a close friend of Trump confidant Rudy Giuliani.
Another initially strong candidate: Roy Altman, who worked as a federal prosecutor in Miami and graduated from Columbia University and Yale Law School. Although Altman interviewed twice for the U.S. attorney’s job, including with Attorney General Jeff Sessions last spring, Rubio did not view him as his personal pick and has blocked his candidacy.
Before the president selects a nominee for U.S. attorney in Miami, the FBI would do a background check. After the nomination, the process of confirming in the Senate would take months. The nominee would eventually succeed Acting U.S. Attorney Ben Greenberg, who in March automatically replaced Wifredo Ferrer, a Democrat who joined the Holland & Knight law firm.