Spotlight on Kevin Ryan, Northern California

Author
by Cho, AvaHome & Roxy for ePluribus Media
Original Publication Date
02/28/2007
Kevin Ryan

On January 16th 2007, Kevin Ryan, US Attorney for California's Northern District, announced his resignation. Mr. Ryan, who had served Northern California for the last 4 1/2 years, is one of the victims of the "Pearl Harbor Day Massacre" of US Attorneys (6-7 were asked to step down on December 7th 2006).

Ryan spokesman Luke Macaulay was quoted as saying that Ryan reached a "mutually agreeable decision with Washington" to step down (Associated Press).

Kevin Ryan was nominated by President George W. Bush on May 15th 2002, approved by the US Senate on July 26th and took office on July 31st 2002. Mr. Ryan, a San Fransisco native,

[...] graduated from Saint Ignatius College Preparatory, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from Dartmouth College, and received his Juris Doctor from the University of San Francisco School of Law. Mr. Ryan began his legal career in California as a prosecutor with the Alameda County District Attorney's Office. While in the District Attorney's Office, he handled a variety of cases including homicides and violent gang prosecutions. In 1996, while serving as a member of the Violent Gang Suppression Unit, Mr. Ryan was appointed by Governor Pete Wilson to serve as a Judge on the San Francisco Municipal Court. In 1998, he was elected overwhelmingly to the Court by the voters of San Francisco, and in 1999, he became a member of the San Francisco Superior Court. Mr. Ryan was serving as the Presiding Judge, Criminal Division, for the San Francisco Superior Court when President Bush nominated him to be the United States Attorney for the Northern District of California.

Prior to Ryan assuming the office, interim U.S. Attorney David Shapiro had filled in when Robert Mueller left the position to head up the FBI. Mueller was a hard act to follow. He had taken over a U.S. District Attorney's office with a bad reputation, declining caseload and poor morale, but Mueller reformed the US Attorneys office in Northern California.

Revitalized by Mueller, the office filed 1,512 cases in 2000, almost double its total two years earlier, when Mueller's predecessor, Yamaguchi, stepped down.

[...]

As the office flourished under Mueller, the FBI and other federal agencies -- if given a choice of court venues based on a crime's geographic range -- started referring more cases to the Northern District. He rode that swell of success to his post with the FBI in 2001.

[...]

Shapiro more or less sustained the momentum between Mueller's exit and Ryan's entrance. Following a six-year stint as a Municipal and Superior Court judge in San Francisco, Ryan arrived as an esteemed trial jurist and a devoted Republican: Visitors to his court chambers at the Hall of Justice could expect to hear the radio tuned to Rush Limbaugh's show.

The Northern California U.S. Attorney's office is in the sixth most populated district of the 94 Federal Districts, with a population base of nearly 7.5 million people, including the metropolitan areas of San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland. The office had a staff of over 200 people and an annual budget of $25 million.1 It was this office Ryan came into -- an office proud of its accomplishments.

Ryan also served on numerous task forces and working groups, including:

Core City United States Attorney for the Pacific Region of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF)
President Bush's Corporate Fraud Task Force
Attorney General's Controlled Substances, Terrorism and National Security, and Environmental subcommittees
Board member and Vice Chair for the Northern California High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area working group

    There are varying opinions on Ryan's effectiveness both as an administrator and a U.S. Attorney. Ryan's first year in office he received good marks, but after that -- according to his detractors -- things went downhill. There is an article in The San Fransisco Weekly entitled "Untouchable," detailing the problems that beset the Northern California U.S. Attorney's Office -- staff turnover, low morale, declining case loads and a U.S. Attorney who became more and more aloof and detached from his staff.

    An audit conducted in March of 2006 found morale low, but in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Ryan had this to say regarding the reported moral problems:

    Q: As recently as March, a Justice Department audit said morale wasn't good in your organization.

    A: I remember Bob Mueller (former U.S. attorney) gave a speech to Congress. He said when you take over any organization, one third are against you, one third are for you, and one third are in the middle. People are sometimes unhappy for a variety of reasons. If I am not drawing criticism, I figure I am not doing my job. When I was a judge, at the end of every day, you made a temporary friend and a permanent enemy. I imagine there are people who don't like the direction I have taken this office under this administration and they're unhappy about it.

    Under Ryan's leadership the U.S. Attorneys' office prosecuted fewer cases, but the cases they did successfully prosecute were much more complex, such as the ongoing BALCO investigation. In July 2006 Ryan released this statement:

    "We are not seeking an indictment today in connection with the ongoing steroid-related investigation, and have postponed that decision for another day in light of some recent developments.

    Much has been accomplished to date; there have been five felony convictions stemming from the investigation...

    However, some unanswered questions remain in this case. We intend to pursue the answers to those questions. We will continue to move forward actively in this investigation -- including continuing to seek the truthful testimony of witnesses whose testimony the grand jury is entitled to hear. After we complete the investigation, we will have a final conclusion about any charges, including whether charges are appropriate."

    There are also the stock back-dating investigations involving several companies in the Silicon Valley. The San Francisco Chronicle presents a Question and Answer interview with Ryan, about his ongoing investigations and the morale issues in his office:

    Kevin Ryan, the tough-talking point man for the Bush administration's federal law enforcement efforts in Northern California, has taken a high-profile interest in investigating whether Bay Area companies and executives fraudulently backdated stock-option grants.

    Over the summer, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California dedicated a federal task force of prosecutors and investigators to the financial scandal that has swept up dozens of companies, led to two criminal indictments and prompted a rash of executive resignations.

    Ryan's office is investigating more than 25 companies. About 15 to 20 percent have troubling red flags, he says. These investigations could go on for years, although sources in federal law enforcement suggest another indictment is imminent. To add more investigative firepower, Ryan is also focusing on whether employees who received the backdated options lied on their individual tax returns.

    One of the most high profile back-dating investigations is Apple Computer. What will happen to these ongoing investigations without Ryan driving the effort?

    On January 17th 2007, Peter Burrows writes for Business Week:

    Ryan, as the guy in charge when the backdating emerged as a full-blown scandal earlier this year, might be more invested in seeing it through than his successor might be. Even now, says one source, "the steam seems to have come out of (the DOJ's prosecution of backdating cases) a bit."

    That's not to say the folks at Apple should be sleeping any easier. No doubt, a decision to charge Apple would create a steam whistle heard round the world, in no time flat. Still, my guess is that Ryan's departure means the odds of criminal charges against Apple or Steve Jobs got a bit longer today.

    So why was Ryan asked to resign -- or was he? In his resignation announcement to his staff, he said "for some months now, I have been considering the possibility of pursuing other challenges for a variety of personal and professional reasons." Was his resignation a "mutually agreeable decision" or "pursuit of other challenges"? Washington Post article.

    Interim US Attorney Named

    On February 20th, an "interim" U.S. Attorney was sworn in for the Northern District of California --

    Scott Schools, 44, who previously worked for the U.S. Justice Department in South Carolina and Washington D.C., was given the oath of office by Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker.

    Schools told a courtroom gathering of federal lawyers and several judges, "I'm very excited and honored to be here."

    Schools was appointed last week by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to replace Kevin Ryan, who served in the top federal lawyer's job in San Francisco for 4 1/2 years.

    So, who is Scott Schools and does his background make him qualified to take over the Silicon Valley case load that is Kevin Ryan's legacy"? "Schools was most recently general counsel to the Justice Department's executive office, which gives guidance in ethics and employee matters to the 94 U.S. attorney's offices around the country."2

    Schools was appointed by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, under a provision of the Patriot Act reauthorization, meaning he can serve until a Senate approved candidate is placed -- which could be as long as the end of the Bush presidency.

    Footnotes

    1http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/can/about/usattorney.html

    2http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/local/16741560.htm

    ePluribus Media Contributors: Avahome, kfred, standingup, JeninRI, cho, roxy, wanderindiana, GreyHawk, biblio