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Originally published May 15, 2009 at 12:57 PM | Page modified May 15, 2009 at 11:55 PM

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Obama nominates Durkan as Seattle U.S. attorney

Jenny Durkan, a prominent Seattle defense attorney and longtime friend and counselor to Gov. Chris Gregoire, has been nominated by President Barack Obama to be the U.S. Attorney in Seattle.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Jenny Durkan, a prominent Seattle defense attorney and longtime friend, confidante and lawyer to Gov. Chris Gregoire, has been nominated by President Obama to be the Seattle-based U.S. Attorney for Western Washington.

If confirmed by the Senate, Durkan would lead the Justice Department's efforts west of the Cascades, including criminal and civil investigations and trials as well as defending federal agencies in court.

"It is an incredible honor to be nominated for this office and the opportunity to serve our state and country," she said in a statement Friday shortly after her nomination was announced. "It is also a privilege to be considered by the Senate for confirmation, and I look forward to working through that process."

Durkan, 50, would replace Jeff Sullivan, who was appointed by the district's federal judges after John McKay was fired in 2006 in a politically motivated purge that led to congressional hearings and the resignation of U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Durkan was one of six U.S. attorneys nominated around the country Friday. In a statement, Obama said his nominees "have distinguished themselves as fair, tenacious and respected attorneys throughout their careers in both public and private service."

Within minutes of the news of Durkan's nomination, Gregoire issued a news release praising the move.

"Washington state's judicial system and the public will be well served by Jenny Durkan as head of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Washington. I congratulate Jenny on her much deserved nomination today," Gregoire said.

"I am so pleased the Obama administration also recognizes Jenny's leadership and experience, and nominated her for this important position. I hope the Senate will act quickly on the nomination to confirm her."

Durkan, considered to be fiercely Democratic, was key among those responsible for handing state Republicans their court defeat over the challenge to Gregoire's hair-thin victory over Dino Rossi in 2004.

However, the last two Republican-nominated U.S. attorneys to serve in Western Washington — brothers Mike and John McKay — both support Durkan for the job.

She also has strong support from Federal Public Defender Tom Hillier, the man whose attorneys and office most often would stand opposed to Durkan's prosecutors in federal criminal cases.

"I think she's a terrific choice," Hillier said Friday. "She is a strong lawyer. And I think it is helpful that she's had experience beyond being a prosecutor."

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Durkan is the daughter of Martin J. Durkan Sr., a political giant in the state who served as chairman of the state Senate Ways and Means Committee and later became a powerful lobbyist. He died in 2005.

Her mother, Lorraine Durkan, the onetime executive editor of the Ballard News Tribune, died in February 2008.

Jenny Durkan has worked for years as a high-end criminal and civil attorney, simultaneously becoming a major figure in the Democratic Party.

Durkan also served on two panels, one appointed by former Mayor Paul Schell and another by Mayor Greg Nickels, to examine misconduct and accountability in the Seattle Police Department.

Durkan works as a solo practitioner in her own office now.

She began her legal career as an associate at the firm Schroeter, Goldmark & Bender and later worked for Williams & Connolly, one of the largest Washington, D.C., firms, and Foster, Pepper & Riviera.

She is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Washington Law School.

If Durkan is confirmed, she will become the fourth person with Seattle ties nominated to a post by Obama.

Former Seattle police Chief Gil Kerlikowske was recently appointed head of the Office of National Drug Control Police. King County Executive Ron Sims was named deputy secretary of Housing and Urban Development. And former governor and King County executive Gary Locke has been named Commerce secretary.

Durkan lives in Seattle with her longtime partner and their two sons. Research indicates she would likely be the first openly gay U.S. attorney.

Information from Seattle Times archives and The Associated Press is included in this report.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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