South Florida

Fajardo confirmed as first woman nominee to head U.S. Attorney office in South Florida

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Ariana Fajardo Orshan, pictured in 2014, has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the U.S. attorney in South Florida.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Ariana Fajardo Orshan, pictured in 2014, has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the U.S. attorney in South Florida. El Nuevo Herald file

In a milestone vote, the U.S. Senate on Tuesday confirmed Miami-Dade circuit judge Ariana Fajardo Orshan as the next U.S. attorney for South Florida. She will become the first female nominee to fill the region’s top federal law enforcement position.

In June, President Donald Trump nominated Fajardo, who is a member of the conservative legal group the Federalist Society, which has been influential in White House judicial selections. Fajardo, 46, was confirmed in a voice vote by the full Senate, establishing her as one of a handful of female U.S. attorneys nominated by Trump in the 93 federal districts around the country.

With her confirmation, Fajardo made history as the first woman to complete the formal congressional process for the federal post in the Southern District of Florida. In the early 1960s, a federal judge had appointed prosecutor Edith House as acting U.S. attorney for a brief stint.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Ariana Fajardo Orshan Miami Herald file

Fajardo, whose nomination for the coveted post was pushed by prominent Republican leaders Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio, once worked as a state prosecutor but has no experience in the federal justice system.

Fajardo’s name rose to the top of the list of potential nominees for U.S. attorney in South Florida after a handful of other candidates, including former federal prosecutors, faded as favorites for political or professional reasons.

“With more than 20 years of experience serving in various capacities in South Florida’s legal community, I am proud to have supported her nomination,” Rubio said in a statement Wednesday. “I am confident that she will serve the people of South Florida with honor and integrity.”

In a statement, Fajardo said her confirmation was an “honor,” thanking her family and others for their support during “this journey.”

She expressed her gratitude to Rubio, Scott, Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Sen. Bill Nelson, the Florida Democrat, “for having the confidence in me to lead such an amazing and important office with so many talented and committed professionals.”

“I humbly accept this new position and am excited to return to a career as a prosecutor and begin to collaborate with state and local law enforcement, including my former boss and mentor, [Miami-Dade State Attorney] Katherine Fernandez Rundle,” Fajardo said.

The U.S. attorney wields tremendous power overseeing more than 200 federal prosecutors in one of the busiest districts in the country. The Southern District of Florida, stretching from Key West to Fort Pierce, has a national reputation for prosecuting major drug-trafficking, fraud and terrorism cases.

Fajardo, who has worked as a family court judge in recent years, will soon replace Benjamin Greenberg as the U.S. attorney based in Miami. She will have to transfer her cases as a circuit judge and then be sworn in to her new position, so the transition could take a few weeks.

A longtime federal prosecutor, Greenberg replaced Wifredo Ferrer in March of last year when he stepped down after Trump was elected president. Ferrer had been nominated by President Barack Obama. Greenberg, who has been with the U.S. attorney’s office for 18 years, plans to stay on as a federal prosecutor. Greenberg, along with six other candidates, has also been recommended by a Federal Judicial Nominating Commission for two vacant judges’ positions in South Florida.

Fajardo, raised in a Cuban family in Hialeah, was appointed by Gov. Scott to the circuit bench in 2012 and elected two years later. She is a graduate of Florida International University and Nova Southeastern University law school.

After graduating from Nova law in 1996, Fajardo was hired as an assistant state attorney in Miami-Dade and steadily worked her way up from misdemeanors to felonies to special prosecutions. She was described as a “hard working” prosecutor who “has the perseverance and patience to see an investigation through” in her 2001 evaluation.

Six months later, Fajardo resigned to pursue a family law practice with her future husband, Robert Orshan, that would eventually lead to her appointment as a Miami-Dade circuit judge in the family division.

Fajardo received favorable ratings as a judge in the Dade County Bar polls of lawyers. Her career as a state prosecutor was also viewed as positive by her bosses.