As President-elect Donald Trump awaits his inauguration next month, several Miami lawyers are quietly lining up to compete for the region’s most powerful law enforcement post: U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida.
Unlike previous presidential transitions, there doesn’t appear to be a shoo-in directly tied to Trump for the coveted job to run one of the busiest districts in the nation.
“Nobody knows what Trump is going to do,” said one insider in Miami.
Among the candidates eyeing the U.S. attorney’s post in South Florida: Roy Altman, John Couriel, Daniel Fridman and Jon Sale — all former federal prosecutors. Of those, Sale has the only link to Trump’s inner circle through his close friendship with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a confidant of the president-elect.
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Whether other lawyers join them to pursue the position, one thing is certain: replacing the U.S. attorney in South Florida and in the other districts around the country will take months.
For starters, the Department of Justice must decide whether to ask all 93 U.S. attorneys either to step down after Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration or to stay in office until they are replaced later in the year. For now, only a few are being asked to stay permanently in office, including the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York.
The highly political process of selecting U.S. attorneys can vary from state to state. Florida historically has used a Federal Judicial Nominating Commission of prominent lawyers to scrutinize and interview candidates before recommending three finalists to the state’s two U.S. senators. Then, they interview them and make a recommendation to the White House.
Jeffrey Sloman, a former U.S. attorney in Miami, said it remains to be seen whether this tradition will continue under the incoming Trump administration.
“I don’t know if we will see that same process under this president,” said Sloman, a federal prosecutor over the past two decades. “No one knows whether he’ll just rely on people he trusts who know the candidates or whether he’ll rely on the traditional process.”
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, the Miami Republican who was re-elected to his seat in November after an acrimonious defeat by Trump in the GOP presidential primaries, stands to hold sway over the next U.S. attorney in South Florida and two others in the central and northern parts of Florida.
Rubio, who will collaborate with his Florida colleague, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, has already scheduled informal talks with some of the candidates who have expressed interest in the U.S. attorney’s post in Miami. They are vying to replace U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009. Ferrer has made fighting fraud, corruption and terrorism the major priorities in his 250-lawyer office that stretches from Key West to Fort Pierce.
So far, the four candidates who plan to seek the post are:
▪ Altman, a partner with Podhurst Orseck, is a former federal prosecutor in Miami who obtained convictions in several major cases, including the trial of an international sex trafficker and the murder trial of a U.S. postal worker. A native Spanish speaker, he also served as deputy chief of special prosecutions and played a lead role in violence reduction partnerships in the communities of Overtown, Liberty City and Miami Gardens. A Yale Law School alumnus, Altman graduated from Columbia University and played on its football and baseball teams.
▪ Couriel prosecuted economic and major criminal cases at the U.S. attorney’s office before joining the law firm Kobre Kim as a partner, specializing in Latin America with a focus on allegations of foreign corruption violations, money laundering and tax evasion. He has also run twice unsuccessfully for the Florida Legislature. A native Spanish speaker, Couriel graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School.
▪ Fridman, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Miami, prosecuted economic, financial and corruption cases before serving as senior counsel to the Deputy Attorney General of the United States and as special counsel for healthcare fraud at the Department of Justice. Now a partner at White & Case, Fridman is a native speaker of Spanish and Portuguese who helps multinational companies operating in the U.S. and Latin America investigate allegations of fraud, kickbacks and bribery of government officials. He is a graduate of the University of Florida and Harvard Law School.
▪ Sale is co-chair of Broad and Cassel’s white-collar defense and compliance practice, representing corporations and individuals in grand jury investigations and complex criminal cases. He is also a member of the Federal Judicial Nominating Commission that reviews and recommends prospective judges to Florida’s two U.S. senators and the president. Sale previously served as the second-in-command of the U.S. attorney’s office in South Florida, after prosecuting federal cases in New York and Connecticut. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and NYU Law School, Sale was also an assistant special prosecutor for the Justice Department in the Watergate case that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
All four candidates declined to comment for this story.
Whoever Trump chooses for U.S. attorney in Miami, there is expected to be a decidedly different agenda under his nominee for attorney general, U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama.
His Senate confirmation hearing will likely raise controversial issues about his reportedly racist statements about blacks as a former U.S. attorney in Alabama, as well as his more recent stand on millions of illegal immigrants that adheres to Trump’s aggressive deportation policy.