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Janet Reno

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Not to be confused with Ginette Reno.
Janet Reno
Janet Reno-us-Portrait.jpg
78th United States Attorney General
In office
March 11, 1993 – January 20, 2001
President Bill Clinton
Preceded by William Barr
Succeeded by John Ashcroft
Personal details
Born Janet Wood Reno
(1938-07-21) July 21, 1938 (age 78)
Miami, Florida, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Alma mater Cornell University
Harvard University

Janet Wood Reno (born July 21, 1938) served as the Attorney General of the United States, from 1993 to 2001.[1] She was nominated by President Bill Clinton on February 11, 1993, and confirmed on March 11, 1993. She was the first woman to serve as Attorney General and the second longest serving Attorney General after William Wirt.

Early life and career

Reno was born in Miami, Florida. Reno's mother, Jane Wallace (née Wood), raised her children and then became an investigative reporter for the Miami News.[2] Her father, Henry Olaf Reno (original surname Rasmussen), was an emigrant from Denmark, who was a reporter for the Miami Herald for 43 years.[2] Janet Reno has three younger siblings: Mark; writer Robert (1939–2012); and Maggy Hurchalla.

Reno attended public school in Miami-Dade County, Florida, where she was a debating champion, and was valedictorian at Coral Gables High School. In 1956 she enrolled at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where she majored in chemistry, became president of the Women's Self-Government Association, and earned her room and board. After graduating from Cornell University, Reno enrolled at Harvard Law School, graduating in 1963. From 1963 to 1971 she worked as an attorney for two Miami law firms. She was named staff director of the Judiciary Committee of the Florida House of Representatives in 1971. She helped revise the Florida court system. In 1973 she accepted a position with the Dade County State Attorney's Office. She worked for the Judiciary Circuit, and left the state attorney's office in 1976 to become a partner in a private law firm.[3]

State Attorney

In 1978 Reno was appointed State Attorney for Dade County (now called Miami-Dade County). She was elected to the Office of State Attorney in November 1978 and was returned to office by the voters four more times. In addition to her official duties, she worked actively in many civic organizations including the Miami Coalition for a Safe and Drug Free Community and the Beacon Council, which was formed to address Miami-Dade's economic development. During her tenure as state attorney, Reno began what the PBS series Frontline described as a "crusade" against accused child abusers.[4] An editorial in the St. Petersburg Times argued:

"Reno's reputation as a state attorney, the foundation for her eight years as the nation's attorney general and her [2002] candidacy for governor of Florida, was built in significant part by her aggressive prosecution of three sensational child abuse cases in Miami-Dade County. She pioneered a controversial technique for eliciting intimate details from young children and inspired passage of a law allowing them to testify by closed-circuit television, out of the possibly intimidating presence of their suspected molesters."[5]

Several of those prosecuted by Reno were either acquitted or later released by appellate judges. One defendant, "a 14-year-old boy, was acquitted after his attorneys discredited the children's persistent interrogations by a psychologist who called herself the 'yucky secrets doctor.' Another was freed by a federal appeals court after 12 years in prison."[5]

In May 1980, Reno prosecuted five white policemen who were accused of beating a black insurance salesman to death.[6] The policemen were all acquitted.[6] During the resulting 1980 Miami riots twenty people were killed, with looters in Liberty City angrily chanting “Reno! Reno! Reno!”[6] Reno met with nearly all of her critics and a few months later won reelection in a landslide.[6]

Country Walk

In 1984, Frank Fuster, the owner of the Country Walk Babysitting Service, in a suburb of Miami, Florida, was found guilty of 14 counts of abuse.[7] He was sentenced to a prison sentence with a minimum of 165 years. Fuster's victims testified that his "unspeakable acts" included leading them in Satanic rituals and terrorizing them by forcing them to watch him mutilate birds, a lesson to children who might reveal the abuse.[7] Fuster had been previously convicted for manslaughter and for fondling a 9-year-old child.[8] Testimony from children in the case was extracted by Laurie and Joseph Braga, a husband-and-wife team who resorted to coercive questioning of the alleged victims when the desired answers were not forthcoming.[9]

Fuster was convicted based in large part on the testimony of his 18-year-old wife, Ileana Flores, who pleaded guilty and testified against him.[5] According to a 2002 episode of Frontline, Flores maintained that "he was innocent, she was innocent and that she was coerced by Reno and others into denouncing her husband. She said she was kept naked in a suicide-watch cell and given cold showers and that Reno visited her late at night in pursuit of her confession and damning testimony."[5] Reno, then a candidate for Governor of Florida, refused to discuss her role in the case, leading one editorial to claim that she was "stonewalling."[5]

Bobby Fijnje

In 1989, as Florida state attorney, Janet Reno pressed adult charges against 13-year-old Bobby Fijnje, who was accused of sexually molesting 21 children in his care during Presbyterian church services. The charges were driven by the testimony of children interviewed by mental-health professionals using techniques later discredited as a contemporary version of witch hunts.[10][11] During the trial, the prosecution was unable to present any witnesses to the alleged abuse. The trial cost taxpayers in excess of $3 million.[12] After two years of investigation and trial, Fijnje was acquitted of all charges at which point he and his family moved to Holland.[13]

After the trial, Janet Reno received a letter from the jury. The jurors in the Fijnje case wanted Ms. Reno to know why her office had failed to make a convincing case. They wrote: 'It is our hope that this case will lay the foundation upon which a set of policies and guidelines are built so that when cases of abuse, especially child abuse, are alleged, the programs in place will allow for appropriate questioning and investigation by the police, physicians and child psychologists so as to drastically reduce the chances of conflicting testimony and charges of contamination that can and will raise reasonable doubt.'[14]

U.S. Attorney General

In 1993 during the Clinton administration, Reno was nominated and confirmed as the first woman to serve as the United States Attorney General. Both of his previous choices, Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood, had problems when it was revealed both had employed illegal immigrants as nannies. Reno remained Attorney General for the rest of Clinton's presidency, making her the longest-serving Attorney General since William Wirt in 1829.

While Clinton could steer a middle ground between his Democratic supporters and the Republican Congress on monetary issues, Reno's job was at the center of a variety of intractable cultural conflicts. This made her a lightning rod for criticism of the Clinton Administration from activists,[who?] who often denounced the federal government as a threat to their fundamental freedoms.[citation needed]

At the Justice Department

The following Department of Justice actions occurred during Reno's tenure:

  • The 51-day Waco siege standoff and resulting 76 deaths—the Branch Davidians—in Waco, Texas. (The standoff began on 28 February 1993, twelve days before Reno was installed as Attorney-General.)
Reno in congressional testimony stated that she authorized the FBI assault on the Branch Davidians because of reports that Militia groups were en route to Waco during the standoff "either to help [Branch Davidian leader David] Koresh or to attack him."[15] Reno publicly expressed her regret of the decision to storm the compound, and accepted full responsibility for the loss of life.[16]

In 1994, Reno signed the "Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending" that was entered into the Federal Register on April 15. The statement states: "The relief sought by DOJ in lending discrimination lawsuits may include: Changes in loan processing and underwriting procedures (including second reviews of denied applications) to ensure equal treatment without regard to prohibited factors."[19]

In 1995, while serving as Attorney General, Reno announced that she was suffering from Parkinson's disease.[20][21]

In 1998, Reno delivered a speech to the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, in which she stated: "The new Community Reinvestment Act regulations enable lenders to develop customized strategic plans for meeting their obligations under the Act, and many have been developed in partnership with your local organizations." [22]

Post-political life

Reno ran for Governor of Florida in 2002, but lost in the Democratic primary to Bill McBride 44% to 44.4%. Voting problems arose in the election, and she did not concede defeat until a week later.[23] She has since retired from public service but frequently makes guest appearances for Democratic and other political causes.

After her tenure as attorney general and her unsuccessful gubernatorial bid, Reno tours the country giving speeches on topics relating to the criminal justice system. For example, on March 31, 2006, she spoke at a criminology conference held at the University of Pennsylvania. At this conference, she stated that she believes that the education system in the United States needs to be improved, as there is a link between the quality of education and the crime rate. She also believes that too much money has been diverted away from the juvenile court system and believes that the government should find some way to make the juvenile courts work effectively so as to prevent problems in troubled children and adolescents before these problems are exacerbated by the time these adolescents reach adulthood.[24][25]

In 2001, Reno appeared alongside Will Ferrell on Saturday Night Live in the final installment of the recurring sketch "Janet Reno's Dance Party".[26] In another television appearance, on a 2007 Super Bowl XLI TV commercial, Janet Reno was among the guests at Chad Ochocinco's Super Bowl party.[27]

Reno is also curating a compilation of old-time American songs performed by contemporary artists called the Song of America.[28]

Reno also serves on the board of directors for the Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization which assists prisoners, who could be exonerated through DNA testing.[29]

In March 2008, Reno received the Council on Litigation Management's[30] Professionalism Award, which recognizes and commemorates an individual who has demonstrated the unique ability to lead others by example in the highest standard of their profession.

On April 17, 2009, Reno was awarded the Justice Award by the American Judicature Society.[31] Eric Holder, Attorney General under the Obama Administration, presented Reno the award. Seth Andersen, Executive Vice President of AJS said the award recognizes "her commitment to improving our systems of justice and educating Americans about our great common enterprise – to ensure equality under the law."[32] The award is the highest given by the AJS, and recognizes significant contributions toward improvements in the administration of justice within the United States.

In 2013, Reno voiced herself for the "Dark Knight Court" episode of The Simpsons.



  1. ^ "Biographies of the Attorneys General". Retrieved May 28, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b "Janet Reno: From Waco to Elian". BBC News. April 14, 2000. 
  4. ^ Transcript of Frontline episode "Did Daddy Do It", PBS (April 25, 2002)
  5. ^ a b c d e Editorial (2002-04-28) Reno owes the public answers, St. Petersburg Times
  6. ^ a b c d Jane Mayer (1 December 1997). "Janet Reno, Alone". The New Yorker. Retrieved 28 June 2016. 
  7. ^ a b Collins, Glen (December 14, 1986). "Nightmare in Country Walk". New York Times. Retrieved July 1, 2008. Mr. Fuster was convicted of molesting the children entrusted to his wife's care in their home in the middle-class Dade County suburb of Country Walk, a planned development that was intended to be an idyllic refuge from the anxieties of urban Miami. 
  8. ^ "Innocence Lost, The Plea". Frontline. Retrieved March 20, 2009. 
  9. ^ De Young, Mary (2004). The day care ritual abuse moral panic. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. p. 71. ISBN 0-7864-1830-3. 
  10. ^ "Interviews - Dr. Stephen Ceci | The Child Terror | FRONTLINE". PBS. Retrieved 2015-01-29. 
  11. ^ "IPT Journal - Book Review - "Witch Hunt: A True Story of Social Hysteria and Abused Justice"". 2014-04-15. Retrieved 2015-01-29. 
  12. ^ "Interviews - Peter Miller | The Child Terror | FRONTLINE". PBS. Retrieved 2015-01-29. 
  13. ^ "Bobby Fijnje - Interview | The Child Terror | FRONTLINE". PBS. 1991-05-05. Retrieved 2015-01-29. 
  14. ^ "Bobby Fijnje - Fijnje Jury's Letter To Janet Reno | The Child Terror | FRONTLINE". PBS. 1991-05-09. Retrieved 2015-01-29. 
  15. ^ Rosenbloom III, Joe (October 17, 1995). "Waco: More than Simple Blunders?". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved June 16, 2010. 
  16. ^
  17. ^ Reno to Jewell: 'I regret the leak' (July 31, 1997)
  18. ^ "CONTEMPT?". PBS. August 6, 1998. 
  19. ^
  20. ^ "Attorney General Janet Reno Diagnosed With Parkinson's - The Tech". 1995-11-17. Retrieved 2012-04-06. 
  21. ^
  23. ^ Roig-Franzia, Manuel (September 18, 2002). "Reno Concedes Defeat in Fla. Primary". Washington Post. 
  24. ^ "Department of Criminology News". University of Pennsylvania. Archived from the original on October 24, 2007. Retrieved January 5, 2008. 
  25. ^ Simon, Stephanie (April 3, 2006). "Reno: Focus on science of preventing crimes". Daily Pennsylvanian. 
  26. ^ "SNL Archives | Impression". January 20, 2001. Retrieved May 28, 2011. 
  27. ^ "Chad Johnson's Super Bowl Party – NFL – Viral Videos". SPIKE. February 4, 2007. Retrieved May 28, 2011. 
  28. ^ "Pitchfork: Devendra, Andrew Bird, Danielson on Janet Reno Comp". June 26, 2007. Archived from the original on June 26, 2007. Retrieved May 28, 2011. 
  29. ^ "The Innocence Project - About Us: Board of Directors". Retrieved February 15, 2015. 
  30. ^ "Council on Litigation Management". Retrieved May 28, 2011. 
  31. ^ "Former Attorney General to Receive National Award" AJS Media Release. January 15, 2009. Retrieved April 17, 2009.
  32. ^ "Holder to Present Reno with AJS's Justice Award" Palazzolo, Joe. The BLT:The Blog of Legal Times. April 17, 2009. Retrieved April 18, 2009.
Legal offices
Preceded by
William Barr
United States Attorney General
Succeeded by
John Ashcroft