Paul Fishman '78 is the United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey and will serve as a panelist in the Alumni-Faculty Forum, "Is the Judicial Confirmation Process Broken?" Fishman spoke with The Daily PrincetonianonThursdayabout what he plans to discuss during the panel, what he loves about Reunions and how students can become successful lawyers.
Daily Princetonian:Thirty-five years after graduation, what is your favorite part about going back to Princeton?
Seeing my friends and the people I spent four years with is by far the thing I’m looking forward to the most. I love the campus. You know there are so many things about the University, but going back for me is about getting the chance to spend time with people who I don’t see often enough and who really mean a lot to me.
DP:Tell me about your favorite memory from your four years at the University.
PF:I have a lot of favorite memories. One of the things I remember the most probably is when I came to campus after I had been accepted and really had the chance to look around, trying to decide if this is where I wanted to go and being struck by the enormous beauty of the campus, which I hadn’t really focused on when I had applied. I remember lots of wonderful memories about spending time with my friends. I remember realizing how much contact I would have with my professors. I actually have pretty fond memories of writing my senior thesis, oddly enough.
DP:What did you learn at Princeton that has helped you in your career and life?
I confirmed for myself when I was at Princeton that I really wanted to study law. I had a few courses in the politics department that I found enormously exciting on constitutional law and on civil liberties, and that really pushed me in the direction in which I was probably already headed but really made that choice that much clearer for me. I think I really, like so many people at college, I really grew up in college—although not all of my friends, all of my family members may think that I grew up enough—and as a result, I really learned, I hope, how to deal with people in a way that has let me be such a successful lawyer, dealing with clients and with colleagues and with other people I interact with on a daily basis.
DP:Tell me more about your career; how did you get to where you are now?
After I graduated from law school, I was unbelievably lucky and got a judicial clerkship with a federal judge named Edward Becker in Philadelphia who became not only a mentor but also a very close friend and taught me an awful lot about public service and about the way in which the judicial system really can make lives better for really everybody in the country. I then started my career as an assistant U.S. attorney, which is a federal prosecutor. I did that for 11 years and was lucky enough to have very senior supervisory positions with Justice [Samuel] Alito [’72] when he ran my office and with Secretary [Michael] Chertoff when he ran my office, both of whom remain good friends. And then I went down to Washington to work for Janet Reno, the attorney general of the United States in the Clinton administration and her deputy Jamie Gorelick, and I did that for three years. Then at the end of 1997, I came back to New Jersey in a private practice, and I spent 12 years as a partner in a law firm doing white-collar criminal defense work and commercial litigation. And then in 2009, I was extraordinarily honored and privileged to have the New Jersey senators, Senators [Frank] Lautenberg and [Robert] Menendez, recommend me for this job to the President, and the President nominated me and the Senate confirmed me in 2009.
DP:Your office recently ordered the detention of Jorge Roman, a former volunteer soccer coach at the University who wascharged withpossessing images of child pornography. As U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, how often do you deal with Princeton-related cases?
Fortunately, most of the people who work and attend the University are extraordinarily law-abiding, and so we don’t deal with the University in that way all that much. But there are occasionally cases in which people break federal criminal laws, and we have to deal with that. I have way more dealings with the University in a different part of my job. I have been on campus to meet with graduate students in the Wilson School and the politics department to talk about government policy and law enforcement policy. I’ve met with the Muslim Students Association to talk about the Department of Justice’s commitment to protecting civil liberties and to talk about how the department is dealing with various issues that are of real significance to Arabs and Muslims in New Jersey and around the country. And I consider myself enormously lucky to be a friend of the new president, so I’ve been in Princeton a few times to see him.
DP:You will be speaking on a panelFridaymorning entitled, "Is the Judicial Confirmation Process Broken?" What is your answer to that question?
I think there are a lot of problems with the way the confirmation process is now running; I think we’ll all have a few things to say about thattomorrow. I’m going to talk a little bit moretomorrow, I think, about my own personal experience going through a nomination/confirmation process, and it will lead to talk ... about how that affects people who are lucky enough to get selected for those jobs and what happens to them along the way.
DP:What experience and opinions do you plan on sharing at the panel?
PF:I’m a little reluctant to steal my own thunder, particularly because I think you’re going to publish before my panel, so I’m going to leave it a little bit in suspense. I will just say, going through a nomination/confirmation process, I think no matter how much ice water you have in your veins, it’s still a very anxiety-provoking process.
DP:Do you think political partisanship has an effect on the “broken” nature of the judicial confirmation process?
PF:It’s clearly the case that the more polarized Congress becomes, the more difficult the confirmation process has become. I think there are very able people who are trying to construct solutions to that problem, but no matter who you are – if you read the newspaper and you watch what’s going on in Washington – it seems like the two parties’ inability to get along in some ways really has hampered everybody’s ability to get people nominated and confirmed.
DP:How do your background and point of view compare to those of the other alumni who are on the panel, including William H. Barbour Jr. ’63, Chris Schroeder ’68, Marisa J. Demeo ’88 and Stephen J. Obermeier ’03?
Obviously, I know Chris Eisgruber, who is moderating the panel, and I read his book and I think he’s an extraordinarily smart guy with interesting insights and solutions, and so I always look forward to hearing him speak. Chris Schroeder, who was a professor at Duke, has been a colleague of mine at the Department of Justice twice, once during the Clinton administration and one during the Obama administration, and we’re good friends, and he has very interesting and strong views, I think, about what the confirmation process is suffering and how it can be improved, and I suspect that our views might be similar in some respects. But I’ll see what he has to saytomorrow.
DP:Other than your panel, what are you looking forward to this weekend?
I’m looking forward to seeing my friends, and I’m really looking forward to bringing my kids back to the University again. I have sons who are nine and 11 who are huge devotees of the P-Rade and the fireworks and love being on campus—both of them aspire to attend the University, and I’m hoping the more time they visit, the better those odds become.
DP:What advice would you offer to students who aspire to one day be in your shoes?
I didn’t aim particularly for this job; the jobs that I took when I started out working for the government were jobs I thought would give me a real opportunity to do public service, to give back in a way that I thought was appropriate for somebody who had the opportunities that I had. I took then, and I still take now, the notion of “Princeton in the nation’s service” very seriously; it dovetails with the very strong public service lessons that I learned from both of my parents, but particularly my father who was a lifelong public servant. My suggestion really is that people look at how they can do public service, look at the opportunities that they can take advantage of to serve their communities, their states, their country, and if they do that and they do it well and with passion and with dedication, that alone will be fulfilling, but that will continue to open doors for them to do even more and greater service. And if they do it right, they will have an awful lot of fun along the way.