U.S. attorney is a critical post for La.

Last month’s presidential appointment was an important one for law enforcement in Louisiana. After nearly a year in office, President Barack Obama appointed a new U.S. attorney for the Western District of Louisiana. The appointee has a name that’s familiar in Louisiana legal circles and still manages to break some ground.

The appointee is Stephanie A. Finley. She has worked for 14 year as an assistant U.S. attorney in the federal judiciary’s Western District, which covers all of North Louisiana as well as South Louisiana from St. Landry, St. Martin, Iberia and St. Mary westward. Finley now awaits confirmation by the Senate.

Finley’s appointment breaks new ground in that she would hold a post that has traditionally belonged to men. As with President George W. Bush’s appointment of Donald Washington, an African American, Finley’s accession to the job would increase the degree to which the post reflects our region’s diversity – while at the same time putting a veteran prosecutor in charge.

We’d also note that Washington, a Republican appointee sure to be replaced by a Democratic administration, nevertheless stayed on the job, putting his post-appointment career on hold, until Finley’s appointment was ready last week. For that, and for eight years of distinguished service, we owe him thanks.

A U.S. attorney has some duties in civil matters involving the federal government, but the public role is most often that of chief prosecutor.

Each U.S. attorney, whether by presidential direction, Justice Department policy or personal priority, seems to have a special area of emphasis.

Beginning in the 1980s, U.S. Attorney Joe Cage prosecuted some high-profile cases, including a massive drug operation involving the importation of more than 1 million pounds of marijuana into Vermilion Parish. But he was also aggressive in going after financial fraud.

In the 1990s, U.S. Attorney Mike Skinner tackled misdeeds by public officials with particular zeal, including voter fraud in St. Martin Parish.

Washington was quoted recently as saying he took pride in cases involving civil rights, drugs and gang crime. We’d add one more item to the list – his office’s work to protect young people from Internet predators.

We’ll have to see what Finley’s areas of focus might be.

We do know that she and all confirmed and prospective federal prosecutors have a special duty at this particular time to discharge their duties without fear or favor. Rightly or wrongly, the firing of nine U.S. attorneys by the Bush administration in 2006 raised questions about the influence of politics on prosecutorial decisions.

Similarly, both political parties seem to have taken pride recently in delaying confirmation of the opposition’s court-related appointees.

U.S. attorney is an important post, and we hope everyone concerned puts the interests of justice ahead of politics.

And if that imperative leads to Finley’s confirmation, we wish her well in the work ahead.

– The Daily Advertiser, Lafayette, La.