L.A. deputy mayor chosen to serve as U.S. attorney for the region

Eileen Maura Decker, an L.A. deputy mayor, has been tapped to serve as the top U.S. prosecutor in the region

Eileen Maura Decker, Los Angeles' deputy mayor on law enforcement and public safety matters and a former longtime assistant U.S. attorney, has been tapped to serve as the top federal prosecutor for the Los Angeles area, the White House announced Wednesday.

Decker, 54, has served as deputy mayor for homeland security and public safety since 2009 for Los Angeles mayors Eric Garcetti and Antonio Villaraigosa. She oversaw matters relating to police, fire and emergency management during a period when the city was taking a hard look at its earthquake preparedness and the Los Angeles Fire Department was under fire for misstating its response times and allegations of nepotism and other issues in its hiring practices.

Before her arrival in City Hall, Decker served as a federal prosecutor for 15 years, rising to supervisory roles overseeing national security, organized crime and terrorism prosecutions. If confirmed, she would step into the position at a time of increased national security challenges over homegrown terror threats and heightened sensitivity over police use of force and civil rights issues.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a statement that she recommended Decker for the position because the top prosecutor for the central district, which covers seven counties from Santa Barbara to San Bernardino, "must be a highly-skilled attorney, an effective manager, and have the ability to work well with federal, state and local law enforcement."

As well as acting as the mayor's chief advisor on policies affecting the police and fire departments, she also oversaw L.A.'s applications for federal grants, a critical — if largely invisible — function in a city that leans heavily on Washington to fund public safety and disaster preparedness.

"Eileen Decker is one of the nation's finest public safety professionals," Garcetti said in a statement after Decker's nomination.

Seldom in the spotlight, Decker is nevertheless widely respected at City Hall, known for her ferocious work ethic and for keeping a low profile amid the often divisive politics surrounding L.A.'s police and fire departments. Hired by then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in 2009, she was one of the few senior administration figures who kept her job when Garcetti took office in 2013.

"She's very level-headed and consistent. She always wants the facts," said Steve Soboroff, president of the L.A. Board of Police Commissioners.

Decker's nomination was lauded by both Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell.

U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Lucy Jones, Garcetti's advisor on earthquakes, credited Decker with playing a significant leadership role in overhauling Los Angeles' seismic safety plan.

"Los Angeles is a safer place because of her," she said.

During her years at the U.S. attorney's office, Decker prosecuted cases involving national security, fraud and organized crime. Former U.S. Atty. Thomas O'Brien said Decker's thoughtful leadership came into play when she became the first chief of the office's newly created national security section.

"She was dealing with a whole bunch of agencies with different mandates, funding and experience levels," O'Brien recalled. "She was tasked with keeping everyone on the same page....That's a skill set the U.S. attorney needs."

Decker declined to comment Wednesday on her nomination. If confirmed by the Senate, she would succeed Andre Birotte Jr., who was appointed to the federal bench last year.

Decker worked in private practice at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in the early 1990s, and served as a law clerk for U.S. District Judge Gary L. Taylor. She is a graduate of New York University, where she received her bachelor's and law degrees. She holds a master's from Naval Postgraduate School's Center for Homeland Defense and Security in Monterey, for which she wrote her thesis on the State Department's "foreign terrorist organization" list.

victoria.kim@latimes.com

peter.jamison@latimes.com

Times staff writers Joel Rubin and Ben Welsh contributed to this report.

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