Battaglia: Poised for U.S. attorney post

May 10, 1993|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

Lynne Anne Battaglia, who is likely to become Maryland's next U.S. attorney, first envisioned a career in public service when she was a schoolgirl in a small town on Lake Erie.

An attraction that began with student government in high school was cemented when she went to college in Washington.

Ms. Battaglia, now 47, was a freshman at American University when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. That episode, she said, affected her deeply.

She was among the crowd outside the church during the president's funeral procession.

"We waited from 5:30 in the morning to watch the casket," Ms. Battaglia recalled. "I think I always wanted to be involved in government and public policy. If there was any doubt that I wouldn't, that sealed it."

Twenty-nine years later, she is on the verge of becoming Maryland's top federal prosecutor.

Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat, has asked the Clinton administration to nominate her to the $113,000 post.

If nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate, she would oversee 60 prosecutors.

She would be the first woman to hold the job permanently -- U.S. Magistrate Judge Catherine C. Blake held the position on an interim basis -- and would bring to the job experience in the federal and state criminal justice systems.

Ms. Battaglia brought federal charges against bank robbers and tax evaders and later, on behalf of the state, planned the strategy to investigate and prosecute Maryland health department officials charged with skimming money from the State Games program.

John M. Staubitz Jr., former deputy health secretary, pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to commit misconduct in office and was sentenced to prison.

Ms. Battaglia, who is now chief of staff for Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, has been an assistant U.S. attorney, a Justice Department lawyer and chief of the Maryland attorney general's criminal investigations division.

And she has taught counseling and negotiations at the University of Maryland law school off and on for more than a decade.

Born in Buffalo, she is the granddaughter of immigrants. Her mother's parents were from what is now Poland and her father's parents came from Sicily.

Her father was a traveling pharmaceutical salesman until Ms. Battaglia was 11, when he settled into his own pharmacy.

Anthony and Regina Battaglia, a secretary who became a full-time homemaker, moved their family of three children to nearby Silver Creek, N.Y.

At American University, Ms. Battaglia earned a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in international relations.

After beginning work on a doctorate at Georgetown University, she entered the University of Maryland law school at age 28. She got her law degree in 1974.

Ms. Battaglia is described as a good administrator by those who worked under her at the Attorney General's office and praised for her legal judgment by lawyers who have opposed her.

Fred W. Bennett, the former federal public defender in Maryland, was trying to win acquittals for criminal defendants when Ms. Battaglia was working for convictions as a federal prosecutor from 1978 to 1982.

He said she was "a skilled advocate" who came to court prepared and left jurors with a good impression.

He said her inexperience as a rookie prosecutor may have been a weakness, but it never appeared to hurt her cases.

"Her background in both state and federal law will be helpful," in that position, Mr. Bennett said.

Praise from the other side

Stephen M. Schenning, a defense lawyer who has opposed her in federal cases, said she made good decisions when determining whether to prosecute.

He said that although she backed the positions of her office, "she listened to the defense bar."

Ms. Battaglia left her first job in law, as an associate handling mostly defense work at the Baltimore law firm, Semmes, Bowen & Semmes, to become a federal prosecutor.

She shared an office suite with the man she is expected to succeed, Richard D. Bennett, also an assistant U.S. attorney at the time.

The two prosecutors worked together on her second case, U.S. vs. Eades, which set a precedent by giving federal prosecutors authority to use Maryland criminal law in federal rape cases. Until then, they had to use federal law, which did not break down sexual offenses into as many gradations.

Richard Bennett, a Republican who had to leave his post after President Bush lost, predicted that Ms. Battaglia would do "a fine job" as U.S. attorney. He added that among her qualities is great ambition.

"But I would never criticize anyone for being ambitious," said Mr. Bennett, who wants to be Maryland's attorney general.

"She's dedicated to her professional career and she is devoted to her son," he said, referring to her 16-year-old, Scott Hammond.

Biggest setback

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