The Honorable Andre Birotte, Jr., United States Attorney, Central District of California
He is the first African American appointed by President Barack Obama to be the United States Attorney for the Central District of California.
By Yussuf J. Simmonds
Sentinel Managing Editor
The Central District of California encompasses seven counties, including San Bernardino County which is the largest county in the country and Andre Birotte, Jr. is the chief United States prosecutor that oversees that area for the U.S. government. His office has a staff of over 270 attorneys and they handle all federal crimes in those counties. But who is Andre Birotte, Jr. and what led him to command such a lofty position in the federal government.
In meeting Birotte for the first or the fifth or the 25th time, he radiates a sense of warmth and comfort which gives one the feeling that he is genuinely interested in listening because he really wants to hear what you have to say; in one word, he is approachable. His office reflects his personality and time spent there makes one feel at home–becoming immediately accustomed to the surroundings.
First of all, Birotte let it be known that he is a product of immigrants, “As you know, my mother and father came here from Haiti; my father was a physician,” he stated proudly, “and in our culture, parents usually have a strong influence on your career path. So if it was in my father’s will, I would have been a doctor, but a couple of science classes showed that medicine wasn’t going to be it for me.”
Recalling Birotte’s recent career path and his present position, both the city of Los Angeles and the Central District of California respectively are beneficiaries of his choice of a legal career. “After college, I took a year off and had some exposure to the law: my father testified at some trials so it peeked my interest,” he continued, “I worked in a law firm and had a phenomenal experience but one of the partners who took me under his wing told me, ‘I love what I’m doing, but there’s nothing better than being a prosecutor. Real lawyers try cases and that’s what being a lawyer is about’ I remember those words to this day. I used to watch court TV and court trials, and decided that’s what I want to do: be a prosecutor or a defense lawyer.”
“I think my upbringing gave me the drive and enthusiasm to pursue my legal career,” Birotte went on. Besides his parents who were his natural heroes, he turned to those in the legal community. First on his list: “Judge (Terry) Hatter, as I said at my induction, when I was in law school, I read about a ruling he had done, and how an ‘outside-the-box’ thinker, this judge was; and there was a picture of him in his chambers, and I said to myself, now that is a cool judge. Then I got to subsequently meet him, and he has since been a mentor and an inspiration to me; his career has just been phenomenal.”
In his previous position, Birotte was the inspector general of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and in comparing job with his current position as the U.S. Attorney, he said, “There are some significant differences but there are a lot of parallels as far as the responsibilities. Obviously, as inspector general, I had the responsibilities on behalf of the police commission, to oversee the LAPD. We don’t do that per se here but, we have a public corruption and civil rights unit, and one of the things they look for and investigate is cases involving law enforcement. So there are some parallels in my background as it relates to that section. As inspector general, I dealt with administrative issues with one specific agency. As U.S. Attorney, our offices are responsible for all the federal litigation in the Central District, one of the largest judicial districts in the country–19 million people and seven counties. So it’s a huge land mass and huge population, and we have the responsibility for all the federal litigation, both criminally and civilly. That is a big difference as well, but I’d like to think that a lot of my time and experiences in the inspector general’s office prepared me well for this current job.
“Being with the inspector general (office), you had to work with various constituencies–the law enforcement community, the rank-and-file officers, the police union, the training officers, etc…. and L.A. is a quite diverse community: the Latino community, the African-American community, the Muslim community, the Asian-Pacific Islander community, so that really helped well. I had the opportunity and exposure in dealing with all those individuals … all those constituencies in times of crises, and that skill set has translated well in this current position.”
In addition to the skills and experience that Birotte brought to the job, he had previously worked as an assistant U.S. Attorney (USA) and that of course, added to his reservoir of skills and experience as he explained the transition, “I think, there are a number of U.S. Attorneys throughout the country that did not come from within the office, but I certainly feel fortunate that I had a great five years as an assistant U.S. Attorney, and was familiar with the prosecution of cases; how to investigate cases; working in the federal court; and knowing, and understanding the respective chain of command structure within all the different departments.
“Though I knew the terrain, I left in 1999, so I’m coming back to an office ten years later …. the vast majority of my friends and colleagues have left. And so I’m coming (back) to a much larger office, new judges in the building, so there’s still a learning curve. But you cannot minimize the strong foundation of having been in the office before, in my opinion.”
Pertaining to the inter-agency relationship between his counterparts at the state, county and city levels, Birotte said, “The relationship is quite strong; we’ve got a very good working relationship and that quite frankly, is because of my prior experience. As inspector general, I had to deal with the city attorney and the district attorney, and their staff. So we have that pre-existing relationship that made the transition much easier. And also, I might add, I understand local law enforcement–the county and local level–so that has helped me when I reach out to the other counties that we represent–the respective chiefs (of police). I can speak their language.”
In addition, there is a close working relationship between Washington, D.C., the attorney general and the district. As Birotte explained, “I am humbled being able to serve the president and the attorney general; they’ve been extraordinarily supportive of this office and all the USAs’ offices throughout the country. There is a real connection between the U.S. Attorney’s offices and Main justice–as we call it–we are very fortunate to have an attorney who was not only was a USA in D.C., a judge and a deputy attorney general, he’s lived his life in the Department of Justice, and knows what it means to be a USA in a district.
“One of the silver linings of the economic recession is that it has, in some ways, forced a lot of entities to work together that previously had not … pool our resources together because we’re all stretched thin, and we’re able to do so in a significant way. Case in point: the F.B.I. and local law enforcement worked hand-in-hand recently in our big gang takedown, the Pueblo-Bishops (gang), and we believe that has a significant impact in a community. The community was terrorized by this gang, and we were able to charge some 40-plus defendants, and take them out of the community in one swoop. That community is going to be changed for a long time to come.”
That recent combined law enforcement effort produced the kind of significant outcome that Birotte can use to measure some degree of success in tackling a much bigger problem … the proliferation of violent neighborhood gangs. “But with that kind of action,” he said, “we have to put systems in place to avoid the next generation of young people from growing up into the ranks (of the gangs) of that kind of life, so that is why community outreach, intervention and prevention are equally important.”
Also there are a lot of myths about what law enforcement does especially since many people get their perceptions from television and the movies and Birotte was asked how does his office how does his office correct those misconceptions. He replied, “It is safe to say we (law enforcement) always worry because jurors expect the same things that they see in the television shows trials. But it doesn’t always happen like in the movies and that is always a challenge for our prosecutors.”
On a lighter note, Birotte said, “Music has been an important part of my life. My family is from the Caribbean and my lived in Mexico, so there was always Haitian music, Latin music and I believe that was the foundation because when I was in college, I saw a D.J. and said, I want to do that. I saw the impact the D.J had on the crowd, and I wanted to do that, and that’s what I did all through college. My musical taste varies quite frankly: R & B, Hip-hop, classical music, opera … you name it, I probably have an album of that genre.”
In closing, Birotte said, I feel extremely honored to be in this position. One thing for me that is very important is to ensure that we are handling and investigating the types of cases that have the broadest impact on the communities that we serve. Violent crime is always going to be a priority and gang activities; terrorism is obviously a big topic and has to remain a priority; white-collar crime, we are heavily focused on the fraud schemes that are going on. And if we can do cases that impact on communities that prevent the elderly and the disadvantage communities, particularly in South Los Angeles and disrupt violent gangs and fraud, that to me is meaningful. My message to the community is that we are here for them ultimately.”
Nothing is more meaningful to receive plaudits from our colleagues and those that we serve, some of the applause that Birotte has earned are as follows:
U.S. District Court Judge of the Central District, Terry Hatter said:
“I think of Andre Birotte like a son. I’ve watched him grow and mature professionally. I’m very proud of him as our new United States Attorney in the largest federal district in the country, with more than 19 million people. He is indeed an inspiration to all whom he serves, the larger community, the community of color, as well as his huge number of lawyers and support staff. This son of Haitian immigrants is an example of our nation’s more positive future.”
Attorney Shawn Chapman-Holley of Kinsella, Weitzman, Iser, Kump & Aldisert, said: “I was one of Andre’s training supervisors in the LA County Public Defender’s Office when he was a young lawyer. Even then, Andre stood out as one of the best and the brightest lawyers in the office. It comes as no surprise that he has achieved the success and stature that he has.”
Danny J. Bakewell, Sr., Exec. Publisher of the Sentinel and Chairman of NNPA, said: “As inspector general of the LAPD, Andre Birotte earned the trust and respect, not only of the rank-and-file officers, but also of the command staff and the Police Protective league. And as the U.S. Attorney of the Central District, there are three things that will follow him: trust, awareness and credibility from the community and the department. He is non-pretentious and very approachable”
Khalid Shah, founder of Stop the Violence Increase the Peace Foundation, said:
“Andre Birotte’s position is so important not only to the law enforcement community , but also to the community at large. Recalling a time in the city of Inglewood, there was a police and community disturbance about a young man named Donovan Jackson; the entire community was about to explode. Because of the efforts of persons like Andre Birotte working with the community, law enforcement, churches, etc., we all came together to get in front of the issues, so that at the end of the day, there would be no violence in the community. That is the true significant of Andre Birotte.”