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Janet Reno
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Janet Reno

Janet Wood Reno (born July 21, 1938) is a former Attorney General of the United States (1993 2001).[1] She was nominated by President Bill Clinton on February 11, 1993, and confirmed on March 11. She was the first female Attorney General and the second longest serving Attorney General after William Wirt.


Early life and career

Reno was born in Miami, Florida. Reno's father, Henry Olaf Reno (original surname Rasmussen), emigrated to the United States from Denmark and for forty-three years was a police reporter for the Miami Herald.[2] Jane Wallace (n e Wood), Reno's mother, raised her children and then became an investigative reporter for the Miami News.[2] Janet Reno has three younger siblings.

Reno attended public school in Miami-Dade County, Florida, where she was a debating champion and was valedictorian at Coral Gables High School. In 1956, Reno enrolled at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where she majored in chemistry,[3] lived in Balch Hall, became president of the Women's Self-Government Association, and earned her room and board.

After Cornell she enrolled at Harvard University Law School, graduating in 1963. From 1963 to 1971 Reno worked as a lawyer for two Miami law firms.

Reno was named staff director of the Judiciary Committee of the Florida House of Representatives in 1971. She helped revise the Florida court system. In 1973, she accepted a position with the Dade County State's Attorney's Office. She worked for the Judiciary Circuit, and left the state's attorney's office in 1976 to become a partner in a private law firm.[4]

State Attorney

In 1978, Reno was appointed State Attorney for Dade County (now called Miami-Dade County). She was elected to the Office of State Attorney in November 1978 and was returned to office by the voters four more times. During her tenure as state attorney, Reno began what the PBS series Frontline described as a "crusade" against accused child abusers.[5] As an editorial in the St. Petersburg Times argues:

"Reno's reputation as a state attorney, the foundation for her eight years as the nation's attorney general and her [2002] candidacy for governor of Florida, was built in significant part by her aggressive prosecution of three sensational child abuse cases in Miami-Dade County. 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.[6]

Several of those prosecuted by Reno were either acquitted or later released by appellate judges.[6] One defendant, "a 14-year-old boy, was acquitted after his attorneys discredited the children's persistent interrogations by a psychologist who called herself the 'yucky secrets doctor.' Another was freed by a federal appeals court after 12 years in prison."[6]

Country Walk

In 1984 Frank Fuster, the owner of the Country Walk Babysitting Service, in a suburb of Miami, Florida, was found guilty of 14 counts of abuse.[7] He was sentenced to a prison sentence with a minimum of 165 years. Fuster's victims testified that his "unspeakable acts" included leading them in Satanic rituals and terrorizing them by forcing them to watch him mutilate birds, a lesson to children who might reveal the abuse.[7] Fuster had been previously convicted for manslaughter and for fondling a 9 year old child.[8] Testimony from children in the case was extracted by Laurie and Joseph Braga, a husband-and-wife team who resorted to coercive questioning of the alleged victims when the desired answers were not forthcoming.[9]

Fuster was convicted based in large part on the testimony of his 18-year-old wife, Ileana Flores, who pleaded guilty and testified against him.[6] According to a 2002 episode of Frontline, Flores maintained that "he was innocent, she was innocent and that she was coerced by Reno and others into denouncing her husband. She said she was kept naked in a suicide watch cell and given cold showers and that Reno visited her late at night in pursuit of her confession and damning testimony."[6] Reno, then a candidate for Governor of Florida, refused to discuss her role in the case, leading one editorial to claim that she was "stonewalling."[6]

Attorney General

In 1993, Reno was nominated and confirmed as the first female Attorney General under Bill Clinton, after both of his previous choices, Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood, had problems when it was revealed both had previously employed illegal immigrants as nannies. Reno remained Attorney General for the rest of Clinton's presidency, making her the longest-serving Attorney General since William Wirt in 1829.

While Clinton could steer a middle ground between his Democratic supporters and the Republican Congress on monetary issues, Reno's job was at the center of a variety of intractable cultural conflicts. This made her a lightning rod for criticism of the Clinton Administration from activists who often denounced the federal government as a threat to their fundamental freedoms.

At the Justice Department

The following Department of Justice actions occurred during Reno's tenure:

Reno in congressional testimony stated that she authorized the FBI assault on the Branch Davidians because of reports that Militia groups were enroute to Waco during the standoff "either to help [Branch Davidian leader David] Koresh or to attack him."[10]

In 1995, while serving as Attorney General, Reno announced that she was suffering from Parkinson's disease.[13]

Post-political life

Reno ran for Governor of Florida in 2002, but lost in the Democratic primary to Bill McBride. Voting problems arose in the election, and she did not concede defeat until a week later.[14] She has since retired from public life but frequently makes guest appearances for Democratic and other political causes.

After her tenure as attorney general and her unsuccessful gubernatorial election bid, Reno tours the country giving speeches on topics relating to the criminal justice system. For example, on March 31, 2006, she spoke at a criminology conference held at the University of Pennsylvania. At this conference, she stated that she believes that the education system in the United States needs to be improved, as there is a link between the quality of education and the crime rate. She also believes that too much money has been diverted away from the juvenile court system and believes that the government should find some way to make the juvenile courts work effectively so as to prevent problems in troubled children and adolescents before these problems are exacerbated by the time these adolescents reach adulthood.[15][16]

In 2001, Reno appeared alongside Will Ferrell on Saturday Night Live in the final installment of the recurring sketch "Janet Reno's Dance Party".[17] In another television appearance, on a 2007 Super Bowl XLI TV commercial, Janet Reno was among the guests at Chad Ochocinco's Super Bowl party.[18]

Reno is also curating a compilation of old-time American songs performed by contemporary artists called the Song of America.[19]

Reno also serves on the board of directors for the Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization which assists prisoners who could be exonerated through DNA testing.[20]

In March 2008, Reno received the Council on Litigation Management's[21] Professionalism Award, which recognizes and commemorates an individual who has demonstrated the unique ability to lead others by example in the highest standard of their profession.

On April 17, 2009, Reno was awarded the Justice Award by the American Judicature Society.[22] Eric Holder, Attorney General under the Obama Administration, presented Reno the award. Seth Andersen, Executive Vice President of AJS said the award recognizes "her commitment to improving our systems of justice and educating Americans about our great common enterprise to ensure equality under the law."[23] The award is the highest given by the AJS, and recognizes significant contributions toward improvements in the administration of justice within the United States.

In popular culture

Miami rappers Anquette dedicated a hit track to Janet Reno in 1989,[24] stating "In our town, we have a State Attorney by the name of Janet Reno. She locks brothers up for not paying their child support."

Richard Fish, a senior partner in Cage & Fish, the law firm on Ally McBeal, hits on Janet Reno (played by an actress) in episode 14 "Body Language" by fondling her neck.

Reno's role in the Eli n Gonz lez affair was parodied in the South Park episode "Quintuplets 2000".

Reno is mentioned in the song "Original Prankster" by The Offspring.

Reno was portrayed by Will Ferrell on Saturday Night Live.

In the American Dad episode "Iced Iced Babies" Francine is in a sperm bank, she says whilst searching for Smith "Regan... Rove... Rumsfeld... Reno... Janet Reno? That goes over here." Then alphabetises it.



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