NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ The man selected to lead the Unabomber prosecution was described Friday as a cool-headed lawyer and a skilled leader with a distinguished courtroom record.
And although he has functioned largely behind the scenes since becoming the No. 2 person in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark 1 1/2 years ago, Robert J. Cleary’s counsel is sought on all high-profile cases, his boss said.
``Hiring him was the best decision I’ve made since I became U.S. attorney,″ said Faith S. Hochberg.
The 40-year-old federal prosecutor is known as a private person and has not made any public statement since Attorney General Janet Reno named him Thursday to lead the six-lawyer squad.
``I think he’ll ignore that and do his work. That’s certainly what I’ve advised him to do,″ Hochberg said. ``They are going to have their eye on the case, not the media.″
Theodore J. Kaczynski, the hermit-like former math professor arrested in Montana last week, has not yet been charged in the 18-year string of bombings that killed three people and injured 23 in nine states. Kaczynski, 53, is being held on charges of possessing bomb components.
The Justice Department said no decision has been made on where any Unabomber case would be tried, and it is possible there could be more than one trial.
Sacramento, Calif., and New Jersey are the leading candidates for a trial because federal death penalty cases could be brought in either place for 1995 and 1994 deaths in Unabomb blasts.
Cleary has been the New Jersey office’s liaison to the Unabomber task force in San Francisco since public relations executive Thomas J. Mosser was killed in his North Caldwell, N.J., home in 1994 by a package bomb. The two other deaths linked to the Unabomber took place within the jurisdiction of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Sacramento.
As first assistant U.S. attorney for New Jersey, Cleary is the chief administrator for the office, which has about 100 lawyers.
``I’m real impressed with him. I think he’s a real smart, capable lawyer,″ said Cathy Fleming, a Newark lawyer who represents federal defendants and who left the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark as a section chief in 1987. She praised Cleary for ``experience, judgment and people skills.″
Cleary has not personally handled any trials in New Jersey, but Hochberg said he had a distinguished trial career in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, where he was chief of the major crimes unit, concentrating on complex white-collar cases.
``The added skills that I identified in Bob ... were his ability to be a team player and to motivate others to work as a team, and his cool head in a storm,″ Hochberg said. ``It’s the team leadership skills, I think, that will be a very important quality in continuing this case.″
Cleary, who lives in New York City, received a Justice Department award for convicting two lawyers in 1989 for their role in a tax fraud scheme that generated fictitious losses of more than $1.6 billion.
Colleagues said Cleary, the son of a New York City police officer, has climbed mountains in Asia and the Adirondacks, and sometimes jogs to the office from the Newark train station. He is married to a federal prosecutor who works in New York.
After graduating from the College of William and Mary, Cleary got his law degree from Fordham Law School in 1980.
Before becoming an assistant U.S. attorney in 1987, Cleary was a trial attorney for 2 1/2 years with the Justice Department’s tax division and spent four years in private practice at New York.
Cleary’s team includes two assistant U.S. attorneys from California, Stephen P. Freccero of the Northern District (San Francisco), and Robert Steven Lapham of the Eastern District (Sacramento). Freccero has been the prosecutor on the San Francisco grand jury looking into the Unabom case for more than a year.
The other team members are Bernard F. Hubley, an assistant from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Montana; and two lawyers from the Justice Department in Washington, E. Thomas Roberts of the terrorism and violent crime section, and J. Douglas Wilson of the appellate section.