WASHINGTON – The full Senate on Friday confirmed former Pima County Superior Court Judge John S. Leonardo to be the next U.S. Attorney for Arizona.
Leonardo will fill the federal prosecutor’s job held by former U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke, who resigned in August during the investigation of Operation Fast and Furious, the botched “gun-walking” operation in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ Phoenix office.
Leonardo had the backing of Arizona Sens. Jon Kyl and John McCain, who hailed Friday’s approval of the former judge and former prosecutor to the job of top federal prosecutor for the state.
“Judge Leonardo’s decade of experience on the bench and previous work in the U.S. Attorney’s office will be strong assets,” the Republican lawmakers said in a joint statement Friday.
Leonardo could not be reached for comment and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Phoenix declined comment.
But attorneys who have worked with Leonardo praised the confirmation.
“He’s a very good man,” said Larry Hammond, a criminal defense attorney in Phoenix, who also worked as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department. “He’s a very well-respected judge.”
“We were very impressed by his judgment and independence,” said Hammond, an attorney now with Osborn Maledon.
Another criminal defense attorney in the state, Walter Nash, said after Leonardo was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month that he was “imminently fair” and “simply a perfect choice” for the U.S. attorney’s job.
Leonardo’s nomination was approved without debate by unanimous consent in the Senate Friday afternoon, one of 22 nominations approved in one vote.
When he nominated Leonardo on March 21, President Barack Obama said he had a “distinguished and impressive” career and that he expected that as U.S. attorney, Leonardo would be “relentless in his pursuit of justice.”
Leonardo was a Pima County Superior Court judge from 1993 to until this February, when he retired from the bench.
A native of Des Moines, Iowa, he graduated from Notre Dame University and the George Washington University School of Law, before serving as an assistant state’s attorney in Prince George’s County, Maryland, from 1972 to 1973.
From 1973 to 1982, he was an assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Indiana, before becoming an assistant U.S. attorney for Arizona. He held that job from 1982 to 1993, when he became a judge.
The U.S. Attorney for Arizona has three responsibilities, according to the office’s website: prosecuting federal criminal cases; prosecuting civil cases brought by the United States or defending the government from civil suit; and collecting federal debts that are “administratively uncollectible.”