Benjamin Richard Civiletti
Benjamin Richard Civiletti served as U.S. attorney general from 1979 to 1981 under President JIMMY CARTER. His leadership helped the JUSTICE DEPARTMENT regain public credibility in the years following the WATERGATE scandal.
Civiletti was born July 17, 1935, in Peekskill, New York. He received a bachelor of arts degree from Johns Hopkins University in 1957 and a law degree from the University of Maryland in 1961. He served from 1961 to 1962 as clerk to William Calvin Chesnut, a U.S. district judge for Maryland. From 1962 to 1964, he worked as assistant U.S. attorney in Baltimore.
Civiletti then turned to private practice with the prestigious Baltimore law firm of Venable, Baetjer, and Howard. His skill as a trial attorney enabled him to rise quickly in the firm. He became a partner in 1969 and headed the litigation department two years later. He also became highly active on various professional committees in Baltimore and Maryland, including the Character Committee of the Court of Appeals of Maryland (1970–76), the Mayor's Commission to Investigate Baltimore City Jails (1972–73), the Judiciary Committee of the Bar Association of Baltimore (1972–75), and the Maryland state legislature's Task Force on Crime (1975–76).
Civiletti's reputation as an outstanding lawyer and civic leader attracted the notice of officials in President Carter's administration. In 1977, the Carter administration appointed Civiletti assistant attorney general in charge of the Criminal Division of the Justice Department. He oversaw a number of sensitive cases in the Criminal Division, including the investigation of Bert Lance, a friend of Carter's who resigned as director of the OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET in September 1977 after being questioned by the Senate about alleged violations of banking laws. Civiletti also dealt with a scandal involving alleged attempts by South Korean government officials to buy influence from members of Congress and from other U.S. government officials.
In late 1977, the Carter administration nominated Civiletti as deputy attorney general. He was finally appointed to the post in January 1978. As deputy attorney general, Civiletti received widespread praise for his coordination
of an interagency campaign against WHITE-COLLAR CRIME.
Civiletti's rapid rise through the ranks of the Justice Department culminated in his appointment, in 1979, as U.S. attorney general. His appointment came after President Carter requested the resignation of top cabinet officials in an attempt to improve the functioning of his administration. The previous attorney general, GRIFFIN B. BELL, had strongly recommended Civiletti to be his replacement. The Senate approved Civiletti's appointment on August 1, 1979, by a vote of 94–1.
As attorney general, Civiletti continued policies initiated by Bell: a restructuring of the FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION so that it might better investigate white-collar crime; recodification of CRIMINAL LAW statutes; increased pursuit of antitrust cases; and improvement of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. In addition, Civiletti continued his earlier work to improve cooperation between different law enforcement divisions of the federal government.
Civiletti was also forced to respond to international events during his tenure as attorney general. After U.S. citizens were seized at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979, Civiletti directed the Justice Department's efforts to deport Iranians who had entered the United States illegally. Civiletti also traveled to the INTERNATIONAL COURT OF JUSTICE at The Hague, and persuaded its judges to rule in favor of the United States and denounce the Iranian capture of the U.S. embassy.
After RONALD REAGAN took office as president in 1981, Civiletti returned to private practice at the Venable law firm. He founded the Maryland LEGAL SERVICES CORPORATION and was the original director of the National Institute against Prejudice and Violence. In 1992, Civiletti became the director and vice president of the American Judicature Society, and in 1993, he was named chairman of the Maryland Governor's Commission on Welfare Policy. Civiletti has served as a trustee of Johns Hopkins University and has received honorary doctorates of law from the University of Baltimore, Tulane University, Saint John's University, the University of Notre Dame, and the University of Maryland.
In 1999, Civiletti testified before a House Judiciary Subcommittee in opposition to the
reauthorization of the Independent Counsel Act. The act authorized a three-judge panel to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate alleged illegal actions by government officials. It drew criticism for granting these prosecutors too much power without any effective oversight from the executive or judicial branches of government. In August 2001, Civiletti was sworn in as the second member of the Independent Review Board, a quasi-governmental agency that was created by court order to monitor the activities of the Teamsters Union.
In the early 2000s, Civiletti continued his work in private practice where he focused on litigation and antitrust issues as well as white collar-crime, corporate governance, government regulation, and health law. He also built a practice in ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION. Civiletti continued to sit on numerous boards, committees, councils and task forces. He also published extensively and maintained a steady schedule of speaking engagements.