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Judge is in race for U.S. attorney job

Dickran Tevrizian was asked to apply as L.A.'s top prosecutor, a move many find unusual because he could retire or be a private jurist.

January 18, 2007|Henry Weinstein and Greg Krikorian | Times Staff Writers

In a highly unusual development, veteran Judge Dickran M. Tevrizian has emerged as one of the leading candidates for the job of top federal prosecutor in Los Angeles.

Tevrizian, who has been a federal judge for 21 years, was considering leaving the bench to go into the lucrative field of private judging. But he was recruited by local lawyers to apply for the position, according to a number of people in the legal community.

Tevrizian, 66, declined to comment. But several lawyers who are conversant with the selection process said he is among half a dozen people, including five former federal prosecutors, seeking to fill the vacancy left by former U.S. Atty. Debra Wong Yang, who resigned to join a private law firm.

Tevrizian's candidacy is "highly unusual," said Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson, who worked in the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles from 1981 to 1989. She noted that at least nine U.S. attorneys have ascended to the federal bench after serving as the top federal prosecutor in Los Angeles. But there is no precedent here for the reverse: to give up a federal judgeship, which is a lifetime appointment, for the U.S. attorney's position, which has minimal job security.

Levenson said Yang's successor will take the job at a "pivotal moment" in the history of the office, which has been understaffed and beset with other problems in recent years.

"There are significant morale issues," Levenson said. "They have lost a lot of senior people."

Other candidates for the position include Daniel P. Collins, a partner at Munger, Tolles & Olson in Los Angeles and a former clerk to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia; and Uttam S. Dhillon, a top lawyer in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, who was a federal prosecutor in Los Angeles and served as chief counsel for the House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security.

Also applying are Kimberly Ann Dunne, a partner at Sidley Austin; Nathan Hochman, a partner in Hochman, Salkin, Rettig, Toscher & Perez in Beverly Hills; Daniel Levin, a partner at WilmerHale in Washington, D.C., who served as counselor to U.S. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft, special assistant to FBI Director Robert Mueller, senior associate counsel to Bush and legal advisor under National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley; and Thomas O'Brien, who is chief of the criminal division of the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles.

Tevrizian grew up in Southern California and attended Los Angeles High School before graduating from USC and USC Law School.

A long-time Republican, Tevrizian spent six years in private practice before being tapped for a Municipal Court judgeship by Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1972 and elevated to the Superior Court by Gov. Jerry Brown in 1978.

In 1985, Tevrizian was appointed by then-President Reagan to the federal bench.

In that job, Tevrizian presided over a number of high-profile cases, including the corruption case of former Democratic Assemblyman Bruce Young of Norwalk, the multimillion-dollar securities fraud case of onetime carpet-cleaning entrepreneur Barry Minkow and the government's prosecution of Hollywood private investigator Anthony Pellicano on explosives charges.

Although he is considered tough on crime, Tevrizian has taken action on behalf of inmates he concluded had been prosecuted unfairly.

In 2003, he overturned the second-degree murder conviction of Thomas L. Goldstein, who had served 24 years for a Long Beach slaying. That decision was upheld by a federal appeals court and in 2004 Goldstein was released after the Los Angeles County district attorney's office concluded that it had no case against him.

Several attorneys said they were puzzled that Tevrizian, at an age when he could retire or make a lot of money as a private judge, would want to leap into what could be a very tough job. But one veteran Los Angeles lawyer, who has frequently appeared before the judge, said he was not surprised.

"Federal judges have enormous power but can only exercise it in the cases that come before them," said Jan Handzlik, a partner at Howrey Simon, who was a federal prosecutor here in the 1970s. As U.S. attorney, Judge Tevrizian ... would be free to advocate, rather than adjudicate, and would undoubtedly have an impact on a broad range of issues affecting the community as a whole."

henry.weinstein@latimes.com

greg.krikorian@latimes.com

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