February 25, 2010 at 6:49 pm EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Obama nominates second lesbian U.S. Attorney

A lesbian prosecutor in San Diego credited with coordinating high-profile narcotics cases along the U.S.-Mexico border was nominated Wednesday by President Obama to be United States attorney for the Southern District of California.

If confirmed by the Senate, Laura Duffy would become the second openly gay person to serve as a U.S. attorney. In September, the Senate confirmed lesbian attorney Jenny Durkan as U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington. Her confirmation took place four months after Obama nominated her in May.

Duffy is one of four people Obama nominated Wednesday for a U.S. attorney position in various parts of the country.

“These distinguished men and women have shown extraordinary commitment and integrity in their pursuit of justice,” Obama said in a statement. “I am confident they will serve the American people wisely and effectively as United States attorneys.”

Duffy has served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of California, which is headquartered in San Diego, since 1997. She served in the Narcotics Enforcement Section of the office until 2007, when she became deputy chief of the General Crimes Section.

Before joining the Southern District office, she worked in the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice in Washington from 1993 to 1997. In that post, she worked initially as a trial attorney for the Money Laundering Section and later as a trial attorney for the Narcotics & Dangerous Drug Section.

“Duffy is well regarded among defense attorneys and judges, and the majority of her cases have involved drug prosecutions,” the San Diego Union-Tribune reported Wednesday.

Among the most widely reported cases she prosecuted was that of Mexican drug kingpin Arellano Felix, who was captured in 2006 on a boat off the Mexican coast and brought to San Diego, where he faced a possible death penalty, the Union-Tribune reported. He later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison.

If confirmed, Duffy would be one of 93 U.S. attorneys serving in 94 federal judicial districts throughout the country. The Southern District of California is the nation’s sixth largest and has one of the largest caseloads in the country, according office’s web site.

Duffy would be in charge of 120 assistant U.S. attorneys, 38 part-time special assistant U.S. attorneys and 168 support personnel. Being located on the Mexican border, the district is in the midst of the joint U.S.-Mexico effort to curtail the drug trade, with drug-related prosecutions representing a large percentage of its cases, the office’s web site says.

Gay rights attorney Robert Raben, who served as an assistant attorney general during the Clinton administration, said Duffy’s nomination, coming on the heels of the U.S. attorney nomination and confirmation of Jenny Durkan in Washington state, represents an important development for the LGBT community.

Raben noted that up until recently, very few known LGBT people have served in high-level law enforcement related positions.

“It chips away at prejudice,” he said. “It’s enormous. Law enforcement, like professional sports and acting, remain professions where people are pressed to be or act straight. It means the world to the 15-year-old gay kid in San Diego to see that a top law enforcement official is openly gay.”

A Justice Department spokesperson said that under the administration’s policies regarding presidential nominees, Duffy would not be available for comment to the media until after the Senate votes on her confirmation.

“We are thrilled with President Obama’s nomination of Laura Duffy,” said Mario Guerrero, government affairs director of Equality California, a statewide LGBT advocacy group. “Her appointment as U.S. attorney is an important milestone for the LGBT community as well as an inspiration.”

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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