Jepsen names a top fed as deputy attorney general

Attorney General-elect George Jepsen today named a high-profile federal prosecutor as his deputy: Nora R. Dannehy, who successfully prosecuted Gov. John G. Rowland on corruption charges.

Dannehy, 49, now the chief of the financial and fraud and public corruption unit in the U.S. attorney’s office in Connecticut, is a career prosecutor who was the top federal prosecutor the state for two years, making way for a political appointee in May.

In nearly 20 years with the U.S. attorney’s office, Dannehy oversaw complex corruption cases in Connecticut and was chosen to handle a politically sensitive investigation of George W. Bush’s former attorney general, Alberto Gonzales.

Jepsen, who succeeds Richard Blumenthal as attorney general on Jan. 5, said the appointment of Dannehy as his second-in-command will convey to lawyers in the attorney general’s office his intention to rely on top legal talent.

Jepsen Dannehy

George Jepsen introduces Nora Dannehy.

“I wanted someone who would instantly command the respect of that office. There’s 210 outstanding attorneys in the office of attorney general, and they should be led by somebody who they know is right for the job,” Jepsen said. “Nora Dannehy fits that bill.”

In making courtesy calls to other officials today about his selection of Dannehy, he said the reaction was uniform: “Wow.”

Dannehy was at a crossroads in her career as a prosecutor. From April 2008 until the confirmation of David B. Fein as the new U.S attorney in May, she was the court-appointed U.S. attorney for Connecticut, overseeing all prosecutions and civil cases.

The Justice Department also chose her as a special prosecutor to investigate the Bush White House’s dismissal of several U.S. attorney’s around the country. In July, Dannehy concluded no federal laws had been broken, even though the dismissals were politically motivated.

After those assignments, Dannehy said she thought it was time to move.

“I was looking for a new challenge,” Dannehy said.

Jepsen said Dannehy will be his chief administrator, but he expects she also will represent the office in sensitive negotiations, taking advantage of her background in complex litigation.

The state attorney general’s office has no criminal jurisdiction.

As a federal prosecutor, Dannehy worked in a world where women are a minority. During investigations, she supervised agents from the FBI, ATF, DEA, IRS and other federal law enforcement agencies. In court, she almost always opposed male criminal defense lawyers.

“She brings the best out of people,” Jepsen said.

Dannehy said today she took pride in the teamwork that typically marked her investigations, which often involved agents from more than one agency.

“That was a great way to successfully run an investigation,” Dannehy said. “I hope to bring those skills to bear on a larger scale here in the attorney general’s office.”

U.S. attorneys generally are political appointees, recommended by a state’s U.S. senators and named by a president. But career lawyers are appointed by the court to fill vacancies, sometimes for years.

Dannehy was selected by the district judges in Connecticut to run the office after Kevin J. O’Connor resigned to become the associate U.S. attorney general in the waning months of the Bush administration.

Going into a private practice – former U.S. attorneys often are welcomed into top firms as partners – never was considered, she said. Dannehy comes from a legal family with a strong history of public service. Her brother is a Superior Court judge, as was their father.

She is a graduate of Wellesley College and Harvard Law School. Aside from three years in private practice at the start of her career, she has worked in the federal court system, first as a clerk to U.S. District Judge T. Emmet Claire and then as a prosecutor.

Dannehy is married to Leonard Boyle, a deputy chief state’s attorney, former federal prosecutor and former commissioner of public safety in Connecticut. They live in Glastonbury.