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Top U.S. Prosecutor in L.A. to Join Law Firm

Debra Wong Yang, the first Asian American to be a U.S. attorney, will handle white-collar defenses for Gibson Dunn & Crutcher.

October 18, 2006|Molly Selvin and Joe Mozingo | Times Staff Writers

Following a well-trod path of lawyers who have moved from government service into big private law firms, the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles announced that she will join the white-collar defense group at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher in January.

Debra Wong Yang, the first Asian American top prosecutor in the United States, said Tuesday that she will sign on with the Los Angeles-based firm, co-chairing its crisis management group with Theodore B. Olson, the former U.S. solicitor general and a longtime friend. Her hiring is part of a continuing push by white-shoe firms to beef up their white-collar practices as they compete for corporate clients in what has become a booming area of law.

During her tenure, the 47-year-old Yang brought criminal charges against Hollywood private eye Anthony Pellicano and class-action powerhouse Milberg Weiss Bershad & Schulman. And she was instrumental in obtaining guilty pleas in the Credit Lyonnaise banking scandal and in getting $1.5 billion in criminal settlements from Boeing Co. and Tenet Healthcare Corp.

Yang said delving into the details of those cases helped seal her decision to stay in litigation.

"I loved the complexity of them, the strategy of working through all these different issues," she said from Washington, D.C.

Yet as a single mother of three, Yang also noted the "financial sacrifice" of working in government when she could earn several times her $140,000-a-year salary as U.S. attorney.

"I still don't make as much as I did when I left private practice 15 years ago," she said.

Historically, U.S. attorneys have often moved to the federal bench but are increasingly turning to private practice. Yang had been on a list of candidates for the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, but withdrew her name more than a year ago, sources close to her have said.

Her new partners admire Yang's "charisma and drive," said managing partner Ken Doran. "She's very smart and a problem solver, and I think she'll be a fabulous success with us."

Gibson Dunn, which began in 1890, includes 800 lawyers in 12 cities in the United States and Europe, and a presence in virtually every area of legal practice.

Yang, who joins the firm as a partner, will help run Gibson's crisis-management group, which Doran described as "a multidisciplinary team" with expertise in federal regulatory agencies, state governments, Congress and the courts.

The move will take Yang just a few blocks from the U.S. attorney's offices on Spring Street to Gibson Dunn's downtown office on Grand Avenue. But the switch will demand "a different mind-set," said Russell Hayman, a former federal prosecutor and Drug Enforcement Administration staffer who now practices in Los Angeles.

That challenge -- and money -- have prompted other local prosecutors to jump to private practice in recent years, including assistant U.S. attorney and former Enron prosecutor John C. Hueston, former chief of the U.S. attorney's office in Santa Ana, who recently said he is joining Irell & Manella.


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