Reno known for hands-on management

February 16, 1993|By Larry Rohter | Larry Rohter,New York Times News Service

MIAMI -- Among the lawyers and investigators who have worked for her, State Attorney Janet Reno of Dade County has always inspired a certain dread with a little black book she keeps. In it, President Clinton's attorney general-designate maintains a detailed record of the progress -- or lack thereof -- in every case that interests her.

"Everybody hated that little black book," said Wayne Black, one of Ms. Reno's former investigators. "She would ask you to brief her, and then two or three weeks later she'd call you in and refer to the black book and what you had told her you would be doing. She was very big into checking up."

If confirmed as attorney general, Ms. Reno will be supervising a Justice Department bureaucracy that is a hundred times larger than her staff of 900 in Miami. But former subordinates familiar with Ms. Reno's management style as Miami's chief prosecutor for the last 15 years said they could not imagine her relinquishing that activist approach if she goes to Washington.

"No matter how much she has to adjust, I'm sure she will keep a pretty strong hand on things, and will definitely demand to be made aware of every important decision," said Jose Quinon, a former assistant state attorney now in private practice in Miami.

"She's a hands-on type of person, no matter what the type of system or the number of individuals she will be supervising. She has a need to control things."

Although the 54-year-old prosecutor has set strict standards of accountability, she also tends to delegate a great deal of authority to subordinates, even those who are young and relatively inexperienced. Former prosecutors said she is unusually accessible, and that she welcomes suggestions so long as they are well-reasoned.

"She was surprisingly open and forthright, and always willing to discuss all the ramifications of a case openly," said Wendell Graham, a Miami lawyer who spent five years on Ms. Reno's staff before going into private practice.

"You could talk about any problem, no matter how sensitive it was. I learned that when you went in, she wanted you to give it to her straight, period."

When a case involved an issue in which Ms. Reno took a personal interest, she often bypassed supervisors and went directly to those in the field.

"I predict here and now that if she hears about some hot case in some district somewhere, the U.S. attorney there will get a call," Mr. Black said with a laugh. "That's just her management style."

Whether such a personal and detailed approach can work at the Justice Department remains open to question. As attorney general, Ms. Reno would have to contend with layer upon layer of bureaucracy, numerous divisions and agencies handling issues that have little to do with litigation, and more than 80,000 employees. The department's annual budget is $11 billion.

Although Ms. Reno has not litigated cases herself in her five terms in office, she is said to have a clear set of priorities and interests, and to have communicated those concerns to her subordinates.

"Janet Reno has never particularly liked being a prosecutor," said a former federal lawyer now in private practice in Miami, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "She has always wanted to do the legal reform thing, so I guess she's an excellent choice for this job under this administration."

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