Peter Strasser

Peter Strasser, a partner at the Chaffe McCall law firm and a former longtime federal prosecutor and legal attaché for the Department of Justice, is expected to be nominated as the next U.S. attorney for Louisiana’s Eastern District.

Sources with knowledge of the nomination process said Strasser’s name is being advanced by U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, who has taken the lead on filling the New Orleans-based post.

Kennedy and his colleague, U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, have divvied up the various federal openings in Louisiana, with Cassidy taking the lead, for instance, in the Baton Rouge-based Middle District, where President Donald Trump this week nominated Brandon Fremin, a top aide to state Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry, for U.S. attorney. 

It will ultimately be up to Trump to decide whether to nominate Strasser, though presidents historically bow to the wishes of leading local members of their party, especially senators. U.S. attorneys and federal judges must be confirmed by the Senate Judiciary Committee and the full Senate.

However, the White House declined to move forward with Kennedy's first choice for the post, lawyer Kyle Schonekas.

Since former U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite stepped down in March, Strasser has been among a handful of lawyers thought to be in the running for the New Orleans post. Polite’s departure coincided with a White House purge of most of the U.S. attorneys appointed by former President Barack Obama.

It’s typical for incoming presidents to replace the 93 presidentially appointed U.S. attorneys around the nation, though Trump has taken some flack for his deliberate pace in filling many of the open spots.

In the case of the Eastern District opening, however, the delay is partly attributable to Kennedy’s first pick washing out. Kennedy had selected longtime criminal defense lawyer Schonekas, who was an unusual choice in part because his aggressive work as a defense lawyer helped to dethrone much of the leadership in the local U.S. Attorney’s Office several years ago.

Schonekas also had never worked as a prosecutor, and he only registered as a Republican days before his candidacy for the post became public. Also, his firm had represented controversial clients, including Planned Parenthood and the Black Lives Matter activist Deray Mckesson.

It’s not clear whether those factors or something else, such as information discovered in an FBI background check that all candidates must undergo, derailed him. 

Strasser, who declined to comment when contacted by The Advocate on Wednesday, will also have to pass such a background check. But given that he has spent most of his career as an employee of the Department of Justice, that may not present much of an obstacle.

A native of Charlottesville, Virginia, Strasser, 63, got his undergraduate degree from his hometown college, the University of Virginia, and his law degree from Washington and Lee University.

He spent the first few years of his legal career as a military lawyer with the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, according to a copy of his resumé posted at LinkedIn.

He moved to New Orleans in 1984 to begin working as an assistant U.S. attorney, a job he held for 18 years, eventually heading the fraud and organized crime sections for the Eastern District’s office.

He left in 2002 but remained with the Department of Justice as a legal attaché posted to foreign countries, working at embassies in Africa, Europe and Asia. He returned to New Orleans in 2013 to join Chaffe McCall, where he is a partner.

Strasser was on the prosecution team that convicted former Gov. Edwin Edwards of racketeering in 2001. He was the lead prosecutor in the 1995 federal bank fraud case against former Jefferson Parish Council Chairman Bob Evans, who was acquitted of all charges.

In recent years, Strasser has represented some high-profile defendants in federal trials.

He was among the first New Orleans defense attorneys to voice allegations of misconduct against Chad Scott, a longtime U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent who recently was indicted on 10 counts, including perjury and obstruction of justice.

Long before Scott was charged with stealing from drug suspects, Strasser filed court papers publicly accusing the longtime lawman of swiping nearly $2,000 while searching the Hammond home of a double-murder suspect.

Prosecutors had taken pains to keep secret the details of their investigation into Scott's DEA task force. But Strasser denounced Scott's "outrageous conduct" in a court filing that asked a judge to throw out the charges against the double-murder suspect, Calvin "Payday" Alexander.

"This drug case is nothing but a fabrication," Strasser wrote.

Two years ago, Strasser defended Nemessis "Nemo" Bates, a former LSU wide receiver who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for ordering a $20,000 hit job carried out by notorious New Orleans gunman-for-hire Walter "Urkel" Porter.

Early this year, Strasser represented Damian "A.D." Barnes, one of 10 alleged "39'ers" gang members accused in more than a dozen murders and a slew of drug-dealing activity in New Orleans. A jury convicted Barnes on racketeering, drug and firearms conspiracy charges but acquitted him in the April 2011 murder of Floyd Moore.

In both trials, Strasser took aggressive aim at the government's star inmate witnesses in cross-examinations laced with mockery over what he described as their self-serving claims.

"Peter Strasser is an intelligent and meticulous attorney," said Billy Sothern, who worked alongside Strasser while representing another 39'er, Evans Lewis, during the six-week trial. "He is respected by prosecutors and defense attorneys alike."

Staff writers Jim Mustian and John Simerman contributed to this story.

Follow Gordon Russell on Twitter, @GordonRussell1.