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O’Donnell considered for federal justice job

Denise E. O'Donnell

Her name is familiar in New York criminal justice circles, particularly in the Buffalo area where she resides and spent a good portion of her legal career.

Denise E. O’Donnell, who has worn many hats, is being considered to be director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, a component of the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. A hearing is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. today before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

O’Donnell, who could not be reached for comment, was nominated for the post Jan. 5 by President Barack Obama. The president had originally nominated her Dec. 13, but the 111th Congress did not act so it was returned for resubmission to the 112th Congress at the start of its session.

The Bureau of Justice Assistance, according to its website ( supports law enforcement, courts, corrections, treatment, victim services, technology and prevention initiatives that strengthen the nation’s criminal justice system.

O’Donnell will be introduced at the hearing by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-NY, who is a member of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

“I am proud to have recommended Denise to be the next director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance and to introduce her to the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow,” Schumer said. “I know that she will be an exemplary leader, helping the BJA assist state and local law enforcement in the fight against drugs, gang violence and violent crime. With Denise at the helm, police departments throughout upstate New York and across the country will have the backing they need to get the job done.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand planned to submit a statement.

The hearing gives members a chance to ask O’Donnell questions. Afterward, the record remains open for a week, during which time, members may submit additional questions for O’Donnell to answer.

Once the committee is satisfied, it can put the matter on the agenda for an executive business meeting. If a majority votes in favor of the nomination, it can be forwarded to the full Senate. If the full Senate agrees, the nomination is confirmed.

“I have had a rich and rewarding legal career to date and have developed a deep understanding and appreciation for the United States criminal justice system,” O’Donnell wrote in her questionnaire for non-judicial nominees. “I believe these experiences have prepared me well to serve as director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance.”

O’Donnell recently served as New York state’s deputy secretary for Public Safety, where she oversaw 11 homeland security and criminal justice agencies with a combined annual budget of $4.7 billion.

From 2007 to 2010, O’Donnell served as commissioner of the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, managing several crime reduction efforts including the collection and analysis of crime data, criminal background investigations, juvenile justice and the administration of state and federal criminal justice grants.

Prior to her appointment, O’Donnell was a litigation partner at Hodgson Russ LLP in Buffalo.

During the Clinton Administration, O’Donnell was appointed as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York, serving from 1997 until the Bush administration took over in 2001.

O’Donnell joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 1985 as a prosecutor and was later promoted to first assistant U.S. Attorney in 1993. Earlier in her career, she served as a law clerk to Justice M. Dolores Denman of the New York Appellate Division, Fourth Department.

O’Donnell is currently active on various legal and professional organizations including the New York State Justice Task Force, the Criminal Justice Council of the New York City Bar Association and the Criminal Justice Section of the New York State Bar Association.

She has lectured at the University at Buffalo Law School and with the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Legal Education.

O’Donnell earned a Bachelor of Science from Canisius College in Buffalo; a Master of Social Work from SUNY at Buffalo, School of Social Work; and her Juris Doctor, summa cum laude, from The University at Buffalo Law School.

Her husband, John F. O’Donnell, also has a lengthy legal career. He is currently a Supreme Court Justice in the Eighth Judicial District in Buffalo, also serving as presiding justice of the Integrated Domestic Violence Part in Erie County.