Hickton first U.S. attorney to resign after Trump election
November 15, 2016 12:03 AM
U.S. Attorney David Hickton is planning to resign this afternoon.
By Torsten Ove / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
After six years as the top law officer in this region, U.S. Attorney David Hickton said Monday he’s stepping down at the end of the month.
He said his last day will be Nov. 28.
Mr. Hickton, a Democrat, has been U.S. attorney since 2010, when he was nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate. Top prosecutors don’t have to leave office when another political party takes over, but they usually step aside within a few months.
Mr. Hickton is the first U.S. attorney to resign since Donald Trump was elected president last week, although a few others had left office in recent months.
“The opportunity to serve as a United States attorney in this administration has been the professional privilege of a lifetime and the highlight of my career,” Mr. Hickton said in a statement.
He declined to comment further.
During his tenure, Mr. Hickton emphasized health care fraud, the national narcotic addiction crisis, international computer espionage and hacking, the interaction between police and the public and other initiatives.
“There is no doubt that the United States is a stronger and safer place because of David’s many contributions,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch in a statement.
Among those, she cited the indictment of five Chinese military hackers on charges of cyber-espionage, a case that is pending, and the dismantling of the Darkode hacking forum as well as several human trafficking cases brought in Western Pennsylvania as part of a national effort.
Ms. Lynch said he had also been a “tireless advocate” for better police-community relations and a “crucial partner” in the fight against heroin and prescription drug addiction. Mr. Hickton was most visible on the U.S. stage as co-chair of the National Heroin Task Force.
Those who worked with him praised his efforts to reach beyond prosecutions to be proactive in addressing complex societal problems.
“His leadership on the opioid situation and cybersecurity put us on the map nationally,” said Rich Fitzgerald, Allegheny County executive.
In 2011 Mr. Hickton assembled a community policing working group to build trust between law enforcement and residents, and he also set up a civil rights section within the U.S. attorney’s office.
“He used his office to pursue not just everyday cases but also to look for ways to create a better community across Western Pennsylvania,” said David Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh who specializes in police issues and who worked with Mr. Hickton in his group.
He said Mr. Hickton was able to bring police and community leaders together in his conference room to have frank discussions.
“The fact that it was happening at all was a giant step forward,” he said. “There were many important moments. For the first time a determination was made to listen and hear each other.”
Neil Capretto, medical director at Gateway Rehabilitation Center and co-chairman of Mr. Hickton’s group on addiction, credited the U.S. attorney with realizing from the start that prosecuting big drug rings was only part of the answer.
Traditionally federal prosecutors bring cases against major traffickers and suppliers, and Mr. Hickton’s office has done that, he said. But he also said Mr. Hickton understood that the crisis required a broad-based approach.
“I can’t begin to say how grateful I am for the work he’s done,” Dr. Capretto said. “I remember a lunch meeting we had three years ago where he said, ‘We can’t arrest our way out of this problem.’”
Mr. Hickton repeated that quote often at news conferences over the years in which he addressed the heroin epidemic, which has largely been driven by the abuse of prescription painkillers.
Dr. Capretto said Mr. Hickton educated himself on the issues and met with addicts, their families and those who provide treatment.
“He did his homework,” he said. “He was hungry to do this the right way.”
Despite the holistic approach, however, Mr. Hickton and his office also brought significant drug cases and put people in prison. In the last two years his office has indicted some 15 drug dealers for supplying addicts with narcotics that ended up killing them. The law used in those cases was rarely employed in this district prior to his tenure, but Mr. Hickton said he would use it aggressively.
The U.S. attorney is the region’s highest-ranking law enforcement official. The office prosecutes federal crimes, oversees civil rights cases and defends the U.S. in cases in which it is named as a party for 25 counties in Western Pennsylvania.
Mr. Hickton had replaced Mary Beth Buchanan, a Republican.
Soo Song, first assistant U.S. attorney, will take over as acting U.S. attorney starting Nov. 29.
Torsten Ove: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-944-6551.
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