Justin Herdman was sworn in late last summer as the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio. He was previously in private law practice and an adjunct professor at Case Western Reserve University’s law school.
Now that he is settling in to the job as U.S. Attorney, he sat down at his headquarters in the Carl B. Stokes U.S. Courthouse in Cleveland; to reflect on what he has seen so far in his new role, and the challenges he sees ahead.
In terms of what his office does most on a day-in-day-out basis, Herdman says it remains engaged in its historic roles of prosecuting federal crimes and supporting law enforcement. But, he says, how that is being done is evolving as new issues emerge from things like the opioid crisis and tech crime.
I also asked him about the possible effects of shifting policy decisions with a new administration also settling in in Washington.
He says each of the nation’s 94 federal judicial districts has unique things about it that are recognized by the Attorney General and “main Justice,” as he calls the Department of Justice in Washington. So, while there are national policies, how they are applied is to a certain extent up to each district’s U.S. Attorney.
“We definitely get guidance from our bosses in D.C., but also, they defer heavily to us.”
Marijuana, for example
On Jan. 4th of this year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent a memo to all judicial court districts reminding them that, even if the state they’re in legalizes marijuana, federal law still prohibits it.
Herdman says this district has always prosecuted marijuana cases and will continue to do so. But the cases typically are only those that involve serious criminal violations.
“We prosecute the distributors of huge quantities of marijuana -- hundreds of thousands of dollars, even millions of dollars’ worth. They often guard what they have with firearms, so there is a violent crime component. And federal weapons law violations.”
In talking about his office’s pursuit of other long-time enforcement priorities, against public corruption and organized crime, he says the methods had to change, too, because of cybercrime.
“Really it’s one of the areas of law that runs across, no matter what the program we’re talking about. No matter if we’re talking about criminal enforcement or civil enforcement we have placed trained cyber prosecutors in every one of our units.
"Every case that we touch has some element of cyber criminality associated with it. So we have prosecutors that know the law and are up on the technology.”
Summing up what he sees as the heart of the job, Justin Herdman says its about protection.
“The United States Attorney’s Office and the federal government in general is here to protect the public. And that means, at its most basic element, how do we ensure that there are not people dying on our streets as a result of criminal conduct? And that could come in the overdose context, and it also comes up in violent crime.”
Note: The article has been updated to remove an extraneous word and fix a grammatical error.