Former Enron prosecutor to take top White House job

Tom Fowler

Houston Chronicle

June 2, 2011

A former prosecutor of Enron executives has been tapped to serve as President Barack Obama's top lawyer.

Kathy Ruemmler, currently principal deputy counsel to the president, will replace White House Counsel Bob Bauer at the end of June. Bauer will become general counsel to Obama's re-election campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

Ruemmler, now 40, was among the youngest of the attorneys involved in the Enron cases when she joined the Enron Task Force. The Richland, Wash., native and Georgetown University Law Center grad became second in command of the group when former Enron Chairman Ken Lay and CEO Jeff Skilling went to trial in 2006. She gave the closing argument for the government.

Philip Hilder, a Houston defense attorney who represented a number of former Enron workers who were witnesses, praised Ruemmler's work.

"She has a profound sense of justice and doesn't see her role as one to win at all costs," Hilder said. "She was deliberate and thoughtful in her actions, not one who would shoot from the hip."

While some Enron prosecutors drew the ire of the defense bar, Ruemmler was consistently reasonable to work with, Hilder said.

"There were a number of people at Enron that got swept up in the scandal who maybe made bad judgments but did not do anything criminal. Ruemmler understood the difference," Hilder said.

Andrew Weissmann, the second head of the Enron Task Force and now an attorney with Jenner & Block, called Ruemmler "a superstar."

"We should all be very grateful to have her working for the public," Weissmann said. "On a personal level I could not be prouder."

Mary Flood, a former Houston Chronicle reporter who covered the prosecution of Enron and its executives, said Ruemmler stood out as a prosecutor in that she had an unusual "defense attorney-like conscience."

"Her concern for fairness and justice and for the defendants not getting too long a sentence was incredibly unusual to me as reporter who has talked to prosecutors for three decades," said Flood, who now works for Androvett Legal Media.

Flood, who has since become friends with Ruemmler, said she also stood out as the only attorney in the courtroom wearing heels day-in and day-out.

"She could fight with the best of the men and dressed like the best of the women outside the courtroom," Flood said.

Ruemmler also earned the respect of many in the defense bar, something not every Enron prosecutor could say.

Bill Rosch, a defense attorney who represented Enron executives in earlier cases, said he became friends with the prosecutor during the trials.

Ruemmler stayed in Houston to work through the 2005 Christmas holiday in preparation for Lay's and Skilling's trials, so Rosch invited her to spend the holiday with his family.

"She really digs into a problem, but will consult easily and listens well," Rosch said. "But she's a decision maker, too."

In a post-trial interview with the Chronicle Ruemmler described the many years she and other prosecutors spent building cases in the wide-ranging legal drama.

"It was like going to a foreign country and learning a new language, like being immersed in that world," said Ruemmler. "And it was a different world."

She didn't agree with a decision to let Chief Accounting Officer Richard Causey enter a plea deal, a move that greatly simplified the government case, but said she had no regrets: "I've never looked back."

Dan Cogdell, a Houston attorney who managed to get one of the only acquittals for an Enron defendant when he represented Sheila Kahanek, also praised Ruemmler.

"She was an effective advocate in the Enron cases and, generally speaking, she was a zealous but appropriate advocate," Cogdell said "If she stays true to her internal course, she will be an invaluable counsel to the president."