At least three former San Antonio federal prosecutors are planning to fill the post of chief law enforcement officer for a huge portion of central and west Texas.
Jackson Walker partner Erica Benites Giese, Davis & Santos partner Jay Hulings and solo practitioner Michael McCrum each want the job of US attorney for the San Antonio-based Western District of Texas.
Others vying for the post include Justin Nelson, an Austin attorney who lost to Ken Paxton in the 2018 Texas Attorney General race, and former senior El Paso District Attorney Jaime Esparza.
Immigration judge Walter “Bud” Paulissen has also turned up as a possible candidate. He is also a former San Antonio federal attorney.
McCrum, 63, confirmed his interest but declined to say much.
“All I can say is that I have spoken to numerous congressmen about my interest,” said McCrum.
Both Giese (46) and Hulings (45) declined to comment, and Paulissen (64) did not respond to a request for comment.
It is up to President Joe Biden to nominate a candidate, with contributions from Texas Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, both serving on the Senate Judiciary Committee. A candidate must be approved by the entire Senate.
It’s been roughly a quarter of a century since a San Antonio attorney was sworn in as a U.S. attorney in the western district of Texas. Bill Blagg took office in 1996 after being appointed by Democrat President Bill Clinton. Blagg resigned in 2001 after Republican George W. Bush was elected president.
Barack Obama was the last Democratic President to nominate a US attorney for the Western District. He elected Robert Pitman, a U.S. judge in Austin, in 2014.
John Bash was the youngest US attorney for the region to be nominated by a president. Bash, who worked in Washington, DC, was nominated by President Donald Trump on the recommendation of Cornyn and Cruz in September 2017. Bash resigned in October to work in the private sector.
The then US Attorney General William Barr appointed Gregg Sofer to succeed Bash. Sofer’s appointment lasted 120 days, a term that ended this month. The US District Court then named Ashley Chapman Hoff as the area’s top law enforcement officer. Hoff, who lives in Austin, became the first U.S. assistant attorney in 2018.
“Any interest on the part of USA Hoff in a permanent position at this point would be mere speculation at this point,” said Daryl Fields, spokesman for the US law firm, in an email.
The US law firm employs more than 300 people, including more than 150 lawyers. It has seven offices, including San Antonio, and covers 68 counties.
The bureau’s priorities are national security, violent crime, and cross-border organized crime, Fields said. Hoff also plans to focus on civil rights, which include human trafficking and hate crimes.
US Democratic Representatives Joaquin Castro from San Antonio, Lloyd Doggett from Austin and Veronica Escobar from El Paso jointly recommended Hulings, Nelson and Esparza for the post.
“Each of them brings unique qualifications to the vital role of the US attorney who can make important contributions to voting rights, environmental enforcement, and prosecuting corruption and organized crime, among other things,” said Doggett. “I fully support each of them.”
Candidates can bring their names to the White House in other ways, including through support from groups and activists.
The White House will seek Cornyn and Cruz input on the candidates it introduces. The senators then forward the names to the Federal Judicial Evaluation Committee to review the applications, review the candidates, and interview them. It will then rank them, said San Antonio attorney and committee chairman David Prichard.
The committee, made up of approximately 25 to 30 members of the legal department, also reviews federal and Texas candidates to serve on the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals.
The ranking of the Committee of Candidates for the US Attorney is presented to Cornyn and Cruz. You can then interview some of the candidates, counsel, and make a recommendation to the White House. The president then makes a nomination.
The process can take about five months, Prichard said.
The candidates in San Antonio were each US assistant attorney.
Giese, a native of Eagle Pass, was a federal prosecutor for 13 years. She was the head of the financial disputes division in the western district and head of the San Antonio and Del Rio divisions. She is now with Jackson Walker’s Government Employees and Investigations Department.
Hulings served as federal prosecutor in Del Rio and San Antonio for about seven years, where, according to an online bio, he oversaw national security, public corruption, complex fraud cases, and investigations and prosecution against organized crime. Previously, he was an advisor to the Permanent Selection Committee for the House of Intelligence.
Hulings, a classmate from Joaquin and Julián Castro’s law school, ranked fourth in the Democratic Elementary School of the 23rd Congressional District in 2018. His practice now includes general litigation and employee defense.
McCrum served as US assistant attorney for 11 years. Eight of them held supervisory roles, including head of the Serious Crimes Division from 1996 to 2000. He was the lead candidate to become a US attorney more than ten years ago, but withdrew his name from the exam due to delays in the nomination process .
McCrum has represented a number of high profile defendants, including former Senator Carlos Uresti and oil and gas entrepreneur Brian Alfaro. McCrum is defending Martin Phipps’ attorney, who was arrested Monday on suspicion of telephone harassment, a class B offense.