The Senate this morning confirmed the nomination of Laura Duffy for U.S. attorney of San Diego and Imperial counties, filling a void in an office that has been without a permanent leader for more than two years.

Duffy, 47, was approved by unanimous consent three months after her nomination, and after a year of competition for the job. She now needs President Barack Obama’s approval, considered a formality since she is his choice. She’s expected to be sworn in next week.

The previous U.S. attorney, Carol Lam, left the office in February 2007 after she was fired by the Bush Administration as part of a number of controversial dismissals in late 2006. Karen Hewitt was appointed by the U.S. District Court to step in as temporary U.S. attorney.

Duffy, best known for her prosecution of members of the feared Arellano-Felix drug cartel, is widely respected by colleagues in the legal community. As news spread that she was confirmed, so did excitement that she would soon take the helm.

“It’s good to see they have a career prosecutor to take over one of the busiest U.S. attorneys offices in the United States,” said Sheriff Bill Gore, who worked with Duffy when he was head of the San Diego FBI. “I’ve known Laura for probably 13 years and have complete confidence in her ability to do a great job in that position.”

Lawyers in the U.S. Attorney’s office were celebrating. “Everybody’s thrilled,” said one assistant U.S. attorney.

Her nomination has also been lauded by gay and lesbian groups, who were pleased that she would become the second openly gay U.S. attorney in the nation.

Duffy is a 16-year Justice Department lawyer, with most of those years spent on narcotics-related prosecutions. Now she will be leaving her post as deputy chief of the office’s general crimes section, where she’s managed a dozen prosecutors.

Duffy has been tight-lipped about her plans for the office, most likely in deference to Hewitt, who also has enjoyed wide respect and support from prosecutors. Still, the lack of a permanent leader has been tough for the office, said John Kirby, a former federal prosecutor and friend of Duffy’s.

“I think it’s been somewhat frustrating in the fact it’s taken so long and it’s been difficult for the district as a whole to go two years with the anticipation that things are going to change but without the real ability to do anything,” Kirby said. “It’s always very difficult for the district to just keep running and for leadership to know what to do when they’re (going to be) leaving.”


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