Sally Quillian Yates

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For U.S. Attorney, Public Corruption Holds ‘Special Place’ in Her Heart

Monday, April 5th, 2010

Sally Yates (DOJ)

Although Sally Quillian Yates has handled cases on numerous topics, public corruption are still her first love, the new U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia told The Gainsville Times in a profile published Sunday.

“I’m a firm believer that how we go about doing our job here and how we represent the people in an honorable way is much more important than what the ultimate resolution of the case is,” Yates said, adding, that public corruption cases hold a “special place in my heart.”

Yates has served in the Atlanta-based Northern District office since 1989. She was confirmed as the new U.S. Attorney in March. During her tenure with the office she has handled the corruption trial of former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell and the case against Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph.

“I think it oftentimes falls to the U.S. Attorney’s office and the feds to be the ones looking out for cases on the corruption front, and to do it in a vigorous way that inspires confidence” she said.

Yates believes her first trial may have been her best. The case, which took place in the late 1980s, involved a disputed title to six acres of land between the county’s first landowning black family and a developer.  Yates ultimately won the case.

“That is the most meaningful case I could ever have,” she told the newspaper. “It gave me a taste for the value of being on the right side of truth and justice, of believing in your cause. Once you’ve tasted that, it’s hard to go back to representing any old client.”

Soon after that case, Yates joined the U.S. Attorney’s office she now heads. During her time in the office, she has served as acting U.S. Attorney, an Assistant U.S. Attorney, chief of the fraud and public corruption section and First Assistant U.S. Attorney.

“I’ve been very fortunate here to have been able to handle a wide variety of cases,” Yates told the newspaper, adding that she stayed in the office “longer than I ever anticipated … because of the satisfaction that comes from being on the side of justice.”

Among the challenges her office faces are drug trafficking cases, which have become a priority since Atlanta became a hub for the Mexican drug cartels, according to Yates. Gangs are also a priority.

Yates also has made sex trafficking, child exploitation, weapons cases and other violent crimes high priorities. But because of the size of the office — 89 prosecutors representing an area with about 6.5 million people — prosecutors need to be selective about cases, she said.

“We really have to pick and choose the cases we’re prosecuting to try to have the greatest impact on the district, both in terms of getting offenders off the streets and sending a deterrence message to stem the tide,” Yates aid.

Kent Alexander, who served as the district’s U.S. Attorney in the 1990s and worked with Yates for several years, said she is up to the task.

“She is absolutely a top-notch prosecutor and I don’t think President Obama could have made a better decision,” he told the newspaper, adding, “She’s been in the courtroom, she’s managed, and she’s led, and most importantly, she has excellent judgment. Bottom line, she’s a star.”