High points include prosecutions of Unabomber, Timothy McVeigh, World Trade Center bomber
Janet Reno's brushes with Hollywood include "SNL" skit, "The Simpsons" cameo, music compilation
Janet Reno lived a historic life.
Not only did the oldest daughter of two newspaper reporters become the first woman to serve as US attorney general, the Harvard Law School product would also go on to serve longer than any AG in the 20th century.
The Miami native died Monday at age 78 after a battle with Parkinson’s disease, more than a decade after her 24-year political career ended with a failed gubernatorial bid.
Here is a quick look at a career punctuated by high-profile prosecutions and controversial tactics.
Child abuse prosecutions
As Miami-Dade County state attorney, Reno earned a reputation as being tough on child abuse. But for all the cases she prosecuted – including the 1984 Country Walk Babysitting Service case, which made headlines amid an era of national paranoia about sex abuse in day cares – she came up relatively empty.
Defendants were acquitted or won their cases on appeal. The wife of Frank Fuster, the target in the Country Walk case, years later retracted her testimony in the case, then retracted the retraction, according to the PBS newsmagazine “Frontline.”
Reno’s record in these cases – and her reticence regarding Country Walk – prompted The St. Petersburg Times to print a critical editorial during her 2002 run for governor: “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. It is open to dispute, however, whether this is a record of which she should be proud.”
The West Texas standoff between the US government and David Koresh’s Branch Davidians began a couple of weeks before Reno was named President Bill Clinton’s attorney general, but Reno’s Justice Department is responsible for bringing the siege to its violent close.
Reno approved the raid on the compound that ended the 51-day standoff on April 19, 1993, resulting in the deaths of 82 Branch Davidians (24 of them children) and four federal agents.
Inquiries into the gunbattle and ensuing fire that consumed the compound dragged on for years. Conspiracy theories live on. Despite the controversy, Reno earned political points with a simple act of accountability, telling reporters, “I made the decision. I’m accountable. The buck stops with me.”
In 1998, Reno’s Justice Department went after Microsoft Corp., accusing it of committing monopolization by bundling its Internet Explorer browser and Windows operating system in an attempt to snuff out competition, namely Netscape.
“Consumers and computer manufacturers should have the right to choose the software they want installed on their personal computers,” Reno said at the time. “We are acting to preserve competition and promote innovation in the computer software industry.”
Microsoft and the Justice Department eventually reached a settlement in 2001, after Reno’s tenure as attorney general had ended.
When 20 or so Freemen holed up in 1996 on a farm in Montana, determined to dodge charges of bank and credit card fraud, the memory of Waco still resonated in Reno’s mind.
This time, she said, there would be “no armed confrontation, no siege, no armed perimeter.”
The standoff would endure 81 days and 42 negotiators, one of whom called the Freemen’s escalating demands “sheer lunacy.” On June 3, 1996, the FBI cut power to the farm, and the Freemen lasted 10 more days before surrendering.
She put some bad, bad dudes behind bars. Four of the highest crimes prosecuted by Reno’s Justice Department imprisoned some of the country’s most notorious criminals: Ted Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber; Timothy McVeigh, orchestrator of the Oklahoma City bombing; Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; and