Michael J. Elston (born 1969), is a United States lawyer.
He is currently the Chief Counsel for Employment Law in the Office of the General Counsel, United States Postal Service, in Washington, D.C. From November 2005 to June 2007, he was a political appointee in the administration of President George W. Bush, serving as the Chief of Staff & Counselor, Office of the Deputy Attorney General, United States Department of Justice. He was appointed as an Assistant United States Attorney in 1999 by Attorney General Janet Reno.
Elston grew up in Rockford, Illinois where he attended Rockford Auburn High School graduating in 1987. He was the student of the year in the Rockford Public Schools. He received his undergraduate degree from Drake University in 1991, where he was president of Theta Chi and vice president of the student senate. He was a co-winner of the Oreon E. Scott Award, and he was named the 1991 recipient of Theta Chi's Reginald E.F. Colley Trophy. He earned his law degree from the Duke University School of Law, where he graduated with high honors in 1994. He served as the managing editor of the journal Law & Contemporary Problems.
The Rockford Register Star in March 2007 profiled Elston's earlier career. It states he clerked for the Honorable Pasco M. Bowman of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit from 1994 to 1996. From 1997 to 1999 he worked as an attorney on the staff of Shughart Thomson & Kilroy firm in Kansas City, Mo. While there, he argued and won a case involving prisoner rights before all 11 judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. In 1999, he was named Assistant U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Illinois in Rockford where he served until 2002. From there he moved to the Eastern District of Virginia; there he worked on the prosecutions of John Walker Lindh, the American who fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan; and Zacarias Moussaoui, the convicted al-Qaida operative who alternately claimed and denied a role in the September 11 attacks. He served as co-chief of criminal appeals from 2003 to 2005, when he became Counsel to the U.S. Attorney. From 2005 to 2007, he was Chief of Staff to U.S. Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty. From October 2005 to October 2006, he also represented the Attorney General as the Justice Department's ex officio member of the United States Sentencing Commission.
In September 2006, the Department of Justice gave Elston its highest award presented to attorneys for contributions and excellence in legal performance—the John Marshall Award—"for his outstanding legal advice, leadership and excellence related to the appellate work of the Eastern District of Virginia." He is also a recipient of the Liam O'Grady Award for outstanding service to the Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys Program in the Eastern District of Virginia and a Certificate of Appreciation from the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Elston worked on early drafts of the Patriot Act. Writing about the Patriot Act in 2005, Elston stated, "Whenever laws are changed to give law enforcement new tools, as occurred with passage of the Patriot Act, there is an accompanying concern about the potential for abuse of those tools. And rightly so. Our country’s strength depends on, and has always depended on, our ability to have fully informed, free and open debates on these issues.... In my experience, the federal law enforcement community is full of hard working, honest people with integrity, who believe passionately in the Bill of Rights. I am confident that we will reach the right balance between what we need to do to keep the country safe and what we need to do to protect our constitutional rights."
Elston is a co-author of the widely cited two-volume treatise "Grand Jury Law & Practice" (Thompson-West 2d ed. 1997), which is updated annually.
From 2007 to 2009, Elston was a partner with the McGuire Woods law firm in its Tysons Corner and Washington, D.C. offices. In 2010, he rejoined the government and continued his public service with the Office of the General Counsel of the United States Postal Service. In 2011, he was promoted to the position of Chief Counsel, Appellate and Commercial Litigation. He was appointed to his present position in May 2012.
Elston is the Senior Warden and a member of the Vestry of Pohick Church. He was first elected to the Vestry in 2010 was immediately selected as Junior Warden. He also served as chair of the church's 66th annual country fair in 2011. He is a member of the church's chapter of the Brotherhood of St. Andrew.
Elston has been an officer of the George Washington Chapter, Virginia Society, Sons of the American Revolution (SAR), since December 2008, and he currently serves as president of the chapter. He is the national vice chairman and Virginia state chairman of the George S. and Stella M. Knight Essay Competition for high school students, and he was appointed as one of three trustees of the Virginia Society's Knight-Patty Fund in 2011. He has received several SAR awards, including the Meritorious Service Medal (2009).
While serving as Chief of Staff to the Deputy Attorney General, Elston was involved in the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys, and was accused of threatening three of the fired U.S. attorneys. Elston denied these allegations, and a subsequent report by the Department of Justice Inspector General exonerated him. After interviewing the U.S. Attorneys involved, the Department of Justice Inspector General's report regarding the dismissal of the U.S. Attorneys cleared Elston of any wrongdoing, stating "we do not have sufficient evidence to conclude that Elston intended to threaten" any of the dismissed U.S. Attorneys.
- "Profile: Michael Elston". Rockford Register Star. 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-07.
- "Department of Justice’s 2006 Annual Awards Ceremony".
- "Alumni Views". Duke Law School. Retrieved 2007-06-15.
- Jordan, Lara Jakes; (Associated Press) (June 16, 2007). "Official close to attorney firings quits". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2007-06-24. [dead link]
- "OIG Special Report September 2008".
- Dan Eggen and Amy Goldstein Justice Official to Quit, Elston Had Role in Prosecutor Firings The Washington Post, June 15, 2007.
- Duke Law School, Alumni Views Comments by Elston on the Patriot Act