Holder Honors Hundreds at Justice Department ‘Oscars’
By Andrew Ramonas | October 22, 2021 10:35 am

The Justice Department’s equivalent of the Oscars, the Annual Attorney General Awards Ceremony, drew about a dozen U.S. attorneys, virtually all the top brass at Main Justice, and hundreds of Justice Department employees and their families.

An enormous American flag waved from the rafters at DAR Constitution Hall on Wednesday, as Deputy Attorney General David Ogden and Mari Barr Santiaglo, a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Management Division, read the names of the honorees.

Nearly 300 lawyers, paralegals, agents, and various other law enforcement officials and staff swept across the stage to receive their awards and pose for a picture with Attorney General Eric Holder, whose grin held up well during the two-hour event.

Assembled Justice Department staff at the Attorney General Awards (Steve Bagley/Main Justice)

Assembled Justice Department staff at the Attorney General Awards (Steve Bagley/Main Justice)

“I’ve been looking forward to this ceremony for quite some time,” Holder said in his opening remarks. “Ever since the initial recommendations for award recipients came across my desk, I’ve been excited to meet the men and women whose accomplishments are so richly deserving of this recognition.”

The Justice Department’s top prize, the Attorney General’s Award for Exceptional Service, went to a group of DOJ employees whose six-year investigation and prosecution of former Los Angeles Police Department officer Ruben Palomares ended a three-year crime spree. Their work resulted in 15 people pleading guilty and the conviction at trial of two others.

The exceptional service award winners are:

  • Jeffrey S. Blumberg and Joshua D. Mahan, Civil Rights Division prosecutors.
  • Douglas McKinley Miller, Central District of California Assistant U.S. Attorney.
  • Philip J. Carson, FBI Los Angeles division special agent.

One lawyer left with awards in both hands and was called out by Holder for the feat.

Deputy Solicitor General Edwin S. Kneedler won the Edward H. Levi Award for Outstanding Professionalism and Exemplary Integrity for his input on intra-governmental deliberations related to congressional subpoenas of ex-presidential advisers, the release of Office of Legal Counsel opinions and presidential signing statements. He was also awarded the Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service for his efforts to defend the Navy’s SONAR training while honoring environmental laws.

DOJ employees and U.S. Attorneys at the Attorney General Awards (Steve Bagley/Main Justice)

DOJ employees and U.S. Attorneys at the Attorney General Awards (Steve Bagley/Main Justice)

Another Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service went to several Office of Inspector General employees who investigated the allegations of politicized hiring within the Justice Department, which ended in the 2006 U.S. Attorney purge.

The honorees are: Carol F. Ochoa, Nina S. Pelletier, Mark S. Masling, Joseph Symcak, Judy A. Sutrich, Jason R. Higley, Dominic N. Russoli, Gina J. Wong, Cheron D. Cooper, Katherine A. Zownir, Cynthia A. Schnedar, William M. Blier, William J. Birney, James D. Duncan, Tamara Jaycox Kessler, Raymond C. Hurley, Margaret S. McCarty and James A. Meade.

A team of DOJ employees also received the Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service for their investigation and prosecution of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, an alleged al-Qaeda sleeper agent who was held as an “enemy combatant” on a Navy brig in South Carolina after 9/11.

The honorees are:

  • Sharon Lever and Joanna Baltes, National Security Division counterterrorism section prosecutors.
  • David E. Risley and Jaci L. Carrell, U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of Illinois employees.
  • Marla Tusk, U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia prosecutor.
  • Timothy P. Kirkham, FBI Aman, Jordan office legal attaché.
  • John H. Stafford, Matthew J. Iskrzycki, Scott B. Easton, Thomas Michael Shanahan, Mary Kay Eades and Rebecca L. Miller, FBI Springfield, Ill., division agents.
  • Jacqueline Maguire and Hillary Brie Sommer, FBI counterterrorism division agents.
  • Nicholas Zambeck, FBI critical incident response group agent.

We particularly enjoyed the presentation of the Attorney General’s Award for Excellence in Furthering the Interests of U.S. National Security. In furthering the interests of national security, we were not privy to the work for which a group of FBI agents was honored, but we know it involved ”a multi-faceted, long-term investigation, which utilized numerous resources and sophisticated techniques,” according to the Justice Department.

Attorney General Eric Holder congratulates award winners. (Steve Bagley/Main Justice)

Attorney General Eric Holder congratulates award winners. (Steve Bagley/Main Justice)

The FBI winners are:

  • Zachary J. Miller, assistant special agent in charge, New York.
  • John F. Karst Jr. and Elisabete Santos, supervisory special agents.
  • Lionel A. DeSilva, James E. Dennehy, Stephen Fullington, William G. Smith, John J. Hartnett, Robert Kravec, Sara Poole, Michael R. Bickings, Robert B. Booth, Carol A. Motyka, Peter G. Diaz and Daniel S. Kim, special agents.

There were more than 25 different types of awards handed out during the ceremony. The list of honors will grow a little longer next year when the Attorney General presents the Claudia J. Flynn Award for Professional Responsibility for the first time. Flynn, the first director of the Professional Responsibility Advisory Office, died of colon cancer in 2006.

The office provides advice on professional responsibility and choice-of-law issues, as opposed to the Office of Professional Responsibility, which investigates complaints against department lawyers.

Read about all of the award winners here.

Joe Palazzolo contributed to this report.

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