Western District U.S. Attorney Birge vows to remain dedicated to his job

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by Cynthia Price
Legal News

It is a little bit complicated, but the bottom line is, Andrew Byerly Birge will continue as the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan until a successor is appointed by the U.S. president and confirmed by the Senate... and there is no time limit on how soon that will happen.

Immediately upon the resignation of Patrick Miles Jr., which took place in January 2017 as the Trump administration was sworn in, Birge began to serve as the interim U.S. Attorney due to his position as First Assistant, making him the senior-most person in the Western District office. That appointment, mandated by the Vacancy Reform Act, expires 300 days after it takes effect.

So in November Attorney General Jeff Sessions appointed Birge as the interim U.S. Attorney, but that appointment cannot by statute last more than 120 days. If there is no presidential appointment within that time, it falls to the U.S. Court to make an appointment.

On March 13, 2018, Chief U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Jonker signed an order saying, “Upon the unanimous vote of the Court, the Court exercises its authority and appoints Andrew Byerly Birge to be United States Attorney for the Western District of Michigan, effective immediately upon expiration of Mr. Birge’s existing appointment  and continuing until the President fills the position with a nominee
confirmed by the United States Senate.”

Since there is no indication when that might be, Birge says he intends to pursue his position with dedication and vigor. “I love this job. I can’t imagine enjoying a job more. I intend to act as long as the court appointment lasts in pursuing the department’s priorities. I see myself as a career prosecutor and I hope to continue in my role if there’s a presidential appointee who keeps me on,” he says.

“I’m making decisions both for a short and long term timetable, and  I’m prepared to make them knowing they could possibly have a short life,” he adds, noting that he imagines he will find out about a presidential nomination in the same way the press and the general public will.

Since Birge began work in early 2017, the office has already seen success in addressing national priorities of violent crime and the opioid epidemic. “I am pleased to report that last year my office increased the number of firearm cases and defendants prosecuted by over 65%, increased drug cases prosecuted by 30% and increased the overall number of cases prosecuted by over 12%,” Birge said in a statement.
Birge gives credit for such suc-

cesses to the excellent staff that surrounds him. “The other thing I love about this job is that I hear so often the great respect people have for our office, and that’s due to the people here. We’ve drawn people from around the country, and they really believe in what they’re doing. When I hear the jokes about government sector workers taking the easy way out, I tell them no, the people work hard here. Frankly I feel like it’s an honor to have my name on these pleadings of the talented attorneys in this office,” he comments.

Birge himself has been all over the country, including his youth and his educational years. Born in Pensacola, Fla., Birge moved around a lot because his father was a doctor in the Navy, though his parents moved back to their home town of St. Louis, Mo., as he was growing up. At the same time, he spent his summers with his grandmother in Traverse City, so he associated good memories with Michigan.

He went to Minnesota for his graduate schooling, attending academically-challenging Carleton College, graduating with distinction as a history major. Birge then went all the way to New York City for his J.D. at the prestigious Columbia University Law School, where he was a Harlan Fiske?Stone Scholar.

“I really enjoyed it,” Birge says. “People think it’s like the paper chase, that everything is cutthroat, but it wasn’t anything like that. I can remember being excited when I was part of a three-person study group with these two brilliant students, and I was the one who came up with the resolution for our problem! But I was surrounded by good people, nice people, from all over the world.”

He knew he would want to return to the Midwest, and his opportunity came when he was offered a clerkship with the well-known Judge Richard Enslen, at the time the chief federal judge in the Kalamazoo court.
“Judge Enslen taught that you feel justice in your gut, and gave me a real feeling for the importance of making sure the law is followed – follow the constitution, figure out the right thing to do; you need to be able to have a good feeling for what’s just.

“I came out of law school not sure exactly where I would head from there, but when I observed federal prosecutors I decided that’s what I wanted to do. They’re the ones wearing a white hat, they’re seeking justice,” Birge comments.

He got his opportunity in the Western District office some 17 years ago, and was named the first assistant in 2007. Both Don Davis and Miles kept him on in that position.

“I learned a lot from Pat Miles that was interesting and helpful – and from all the people in this office. I’ve had good mentors over the years,” he says.

As U.S. Attorney, Birge has embraced two of the Department of Justice (DOJ) initiatives. First, he has unveiled a West Michigan-specific initiative to address the opioid epidemic. In addition to prosecution, the program will comprise “preservation,” or supporting treatment for those with substance abuse disorders, and “prevention,” educating the public including youth. Birge spearheaded an inaugural educational session at Grandville High School.

“One of the nuances is to be aware of fentanyl, to let the public know that that’s a particularly dangerous getting mixed in with heroin,” he says. “We also want to use our office to get the word out that Narcan (the drug which reverses overdose} is now available over the counter.”

In addition, the Western District has followed the lead of the national DOJ in disseminating information about gender discrimination and sexual harassment in housing. Birge invites people who feel they may have been victims to call the local civil rights hotline at  616-808-2004.

Comments Birge, “Housing is just  part of the civil rights initiative, but we want to combat all types, including hate crimes.  Our door’s always open – we’ll take the call.”
 

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