It appears that Chicago will not have a permanent U.S. Attorney in place until late this year at the earliest, early next year at the latest.
To ensure the nomination is not tainted by politics, U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk have agreed that a yet-to-be-appointed six-member committee select a short list of candidates.
"Those six people will review and consider all applications for this position," Durbin said.
Durbin promised that he and Senator Kirk would select their nominee from those names recommended by the committee.
"This is a little awkward because we are just months away from a presidential election," said Durbin. "It is up to the committee we choose to come up with the names. We are not putting a deadline on them at this point."
On average, it takes between two and four months to confirm a U.S. Attorney once the nomination is sent to the senate.
In the meantime, the current first assistant to Patrick Fitzgerald, Gary Shapiro, will serve as the acting U.S. Attorney for the northern district of Illinois.
"He comes with the highest recommendation of Patrick Fitzgerald," Durbin said. "He is a professional who comes with years and years of experience."
Shapiro is a 65-year-old federal prosecutor who began his justice department career 40 years ago in 1972. He focused on organized crime in the 1980's and became the first assistant, or the office's second in command, in 1998.
The retiring Fitzgerald says, "The office could not be in better hands," the retiring Fitzgerald said. "In his two decades as criminal chief and first assistant, (Shapiro) has consistently exhibited great leadership and integrity."
Juliet Sorensen worked as assistant U.S. Attorney for Fitzgerald and with Shapiro before becoming a law professor at Northwestern University. She supports the idea of an independent panel to review applicants. And Sorensen says she believes it's possible to find a candidate locally with Fitzgerald-style independence.
"There is a definite benefit to having a non-political U.S. Attorney," said Sorenson said. "I believe there are a number of attorneys in Chicago and the surrounding area who have the independence and experience."
Durbin said only those candidate who apply will be considered. U.S. Attorney-designate Shapiro is out of the country and unavailable for comment.