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U.S. Attorney short list excludes judge, includes one woman

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Lori Lightfoot

The short list for the next U.S. Attorney has some surprises -- namely, who's not on it.

A committee that is helping screen potential choices for the next U.S. attorney has whittled the list of contenders from eight to four, sources told the Chicago Sun-Times on Monday.

Outside of the elections, this is the biggest political move that will affect the Chicago area.

"The legal profession in Chicago is almost more interested in who the U.S. Attorney is than who their elected officials are," said Kay Hoppe, of Credentia Inc., a legal consulting firm in Chicago.

The selection committee will forward a final list of names to U.S. senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill).

(To view a listing of the U.S. Attorneys across the country, including Bush-era holdovers: Click here.)

The four who sources say have been notified they are still in contention are:

Jonathan Bunge
◆ Jonathan Bunge, a former deputy chief of the U.S. attorney's general crimes section in Chicago, who now works with the Kirkland & Ellis law firm.

Zach Fardon
◆ Zach Fardon, who prosecuted former Gov. George Ryan in Chicago and was first assistant U.S. attorney in Nashville before going into private practice with Latham and Watkins in Chicago.

◆ Lori Lightfoot, who is the only female and only minority on the list. Lightfoot is one of the city's leading African-American attorneys and was once the chief administrator at the Chicago Police Department's Office of Professional Standards. Lightfoot works with the Mayer Brown law firm.

Gil Soffer
◆ Gil Soffer, who worked in Washington, D.C., under former Deputy Attorney General Mark Filip, who is co-chair of the selection committee, has served as a commissioner on the Illinois Executive Ethics Commission. The Harvard Law graduate is National Co-Head of White Collar Defense, Internal Investigations and Compliance Practice at Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP.

The list does not include two candidates who insiders believed would be among the finalists -- U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall, who has traveled the world educating other jurisdictions on how to institute laws and prosecutorial practices against sex trafficking and child exploitation, and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Collins, who spearheaded Operation Safe Road, which led to charges against Ryan -- one of the most significant investigations in the history of the office.

While Kendall was under consideration for the post, her caseload had been transferred to other judges. U.S. District Court Clerk Tom Bruton said on Monday that has not changed.

A Durbin spokeswoman would not comment Monday. But both senators have said they would work together and each has veto power over possible candidates.

A joint statement about the selection procedures said the committee will screen applicants "with the goal of recommending candidates of top quality," to senators Durbin and Kirk. Durbin and Kirk would then conduct interviews of finalists and consult with one another before submitting names to the White House, according to a release made available in June.

Though both senators said the process would be "transparent," several potential candidates who did not want to be named complained that they learned of the round of eight finalists from reading the newspaper and either were not given an opportunity to interview or were not notified by way of professional courtesy that they were no longer in the running.

Meanwhile, an unconfirmed list of four candidates had been circulating in the legal community for more than a week.

The topic of who would replace former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has been the talk in the legal community since he announced his retirement in the Spring. But it has intensified of late.

"It's a crucial appointment, not only for former assistants, but for practically every law firm in Chicago. There's tremendous interest," Hoppe said. "[Former[ U.S. Attorneys or former assistants have been the backbone of the profession in this city. This is not an insignificant office. In this city, it's just a crucial office. The assistants are the finest and some of the most respected litigators in this city."

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