Pledging not to alter the traditional focuses of the U.S. Attorney's Office, Paul Fishman, already in office for two months, was formally sworn in this afternoon as the state's top federal prosecutor in a star studded ceremony that included both of the state's U.S. senators, its incoming and outgoing governors, the U.S. Attorney General and U.S. Supreme Court Justice.
"Even with terrorism and national security as our number one priority, and even with new critical areas like health care fraud and mortgage fraud, I can assure you that my commitment and the commitment of the office on other traditional things on which we focus will not flag, and we will not relent," said Fishman in his address, after he was sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, Jr., a Hamilton native who served as the state's U.S. Attorney from 1987 to 1990.
Fishman, a 52-year-old Montclair resident, will oversee a staff of about 140 in the office where he built his career and which he was almost tapped to lead 10 years ago.
"Today, the truth is that I have achieved something that has been a huge ambition and longing of mine to be the United States Attorney for this district," he said.
Fishman started at the U.S. Attorney's Office in 1983 — a year after graduating from Harvard Law, where he edited the Harvard Law Review– and worked his way up to become First Assistant U.S. Attorney under then-U.S. Attorney Michael Chertoff. In 1994, he move to Washington to work as an advisor to then-Attorney General Janet Reno, before starting a private practice as a white collar defense attorney in 1997.
Two years later, Fishman was U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg's (D-Cliffside Park) choice to lead the office after then-U.S. Attorney Faith Hochberg was tapped to become a U.S. District Court judge. But then-U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli's choice, Robert Cleary, won out.
Fishman's decade long wait to get to the position was the subject of a couple jokes at the jocular ceremony, in which Fishman's closest colleagues joked about everything from Fishman's slow confirmation process, to Fishman's fondness for Yogi Berra (he's a trustee at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center), to his diminutive stature.
"You can also say he's not afraid to be around people who are taller than he is," said former Deputy U.S. Attorney General Jamie Gorelick.
Fishman himself called his almost-nomination to the job ten years ago "the elephant in the room" and joked that Lautenberg came back from retirement in 2002 to make sure that he ultimately got the job.
Chertoff, who said Fishman was his "most trusted" assistant during his time as U.S. attorney, remarked that the crowd of about 400 was the largest ever for the swearing in for any person to take the job and, for that matter, larger than Attorney General Eric Holder's swearing-in.
Chertoff said that even when Fishman was the number two ranking prosecutor in the office, he still did the work often assigned to lower down assistants. Fishman would often prosecute cases directly, Chertoff said, including the corruption case of former Passaic Mayor Joseph Lipari.
"He didn't just pick trials that were easy trials. He picked tough trials," he said.
Lautenberg, who like 10 years ago recommended Fishman for the post, said Fishman would work to protect consumers and fight street crime and corruption.
U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-Hoboken), who, noting the size of the crowd and its many high ranking politicians and jurists, joked "You can just imagine what Paul Fishman's Bar Mitzvah was like."
Taking a more serious tone, Menendez –who was served a controversial subpoena by the U.S. Attorney's office during his 2006 election campaign, when it was run by Gov.-elect Chris Christie — said that Fishman would "not only aggressively rout public corruption, but understand that when the facts lead to a determination that somebody's innocent, true justice dictates that they be exonerated."
Holder, who jokingly acknowledged that there were more people at Fishman's swearing in than his own last year, said that Fishman's "intellect and his wide range of experiences I think will greatly benefit me, the department and our nation."