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Benjamin Civiletti

Benjamin R. Civiletti
73rd United States Attorney General
In office
August 16, 1979 – January 19, 1981
President Jimmy Carter
Preceded by Griffin B. Bell
Succeeded by William French Smith
United States Deputy Attorney General
In office
1978 – August 16, 1979
President Jimmy Carter
Preceded by Peter F. Flaherty
Succeeded by Charles B. Renfrew
Personal details
Born Benjamin Richard Civiletti
(1935-07-17) July 17, 1935
Peekskill, New York, United States
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Gaile Lundgren Civiletti
Children Benjamin H. Civiletti
Andrew S. Civiletti
Lynne T. Civiletti
Alma mater Johns Hopkins University
University of Maryland Law School
Religion Roman Catholic

Benjamin Richard Civiletti (born July 17, 1935) served as the United States Attorney General during the last year and a half of the Carter administration, from 1979 to 1981. He was the first Italian American to serve as Attorney General. He is a former senior partner in the Washington, D.C., law firm of Venable LLP, where he specialized in commercial litigation and internal investigations, and in 2005 became the first U.S. lawyer to charge $1,000 an hour.[1]

Civiletti is also currently one of the three members of the Independent Review Board, a board that the consent decree issued by a federal district court judgment.[2]

Early life and career

Born in Peekskill, New York, in 1935. Civiletti graduated from Johns Hopkins University, where he received an A.B. in psychology in 1957,[3] and from the University of Maryland School of Law in Baltimore, Maryland, where he received a J.D. in 1961.[4]

Civiletti was a law clerk for W. Calvin Chesnut, a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, and became an Assistant United States Attorney in Baltimore a year after graduating from law school.[5]

Benjamin Civiletti (1979)

Civiletti was serving as the Deputy Attorney General when his boss Griffin B. Bell resigned. He was elevated to the top job in the Justice Department on July 19, 1979. Although Bell resigned voluntarily, his resignation occurred during a major Cabinet shakeup in the Carter administration. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Joseph A. Califano, Jr. and Secretary of the Treasury W. Michael Blumenthal also resigned the same day. Transportation Secretary Brock Adams soon followed.

Civiletti had come to Bell's attention when he was forming the Justice Department for the newly elected president by Carter's close confidant, Charles Kirbo, a law partner of Bell's who had once been involved in a case with Civiletti. Civiletti served as assistant attorney general in charge of the Criminal Division and was elevated to deputy attorney general after the resignation of Carter's first deputy attorney general, Peter F. Flaherty, the former mayor of Pittsburgh.

As the Attorney General, Civiletti argued several important cases on behalf of the U.S. government. Notably, he argued before the International Court of Justice on behalf of Americans being held captive in Iran during the Iran hostage crisis, in the Case Concerning United States Diplomatic and Consular Staff in Tehran.[6] He also argued before the Supreme Court in support of the government's right to denaturalize Nazi war criminals in Fedorenko v. United States.

Opinions written by Civiletti as attorney general, which interpreted the Constitution and federal law to say that government cannot operate until Congress agrees on a spending bill, set the stage for partial government shutdowns in later years.[7]

While serving as Attorney General, and in spite of public opposition from Puerto Rico's Governor who believed it would encourage more terrorism, Civiletti recommended, and President Carter agreed, to a commutation of sentences to time served for four unrepentant Puerto Rican nationalists convicted of shooting five U.S. Congressmen at the U.S. Capitol.[8][9]

On July 10, 2008, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley announced that Civiletti would serve as the chairman of the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment, set up to study the application of capital punishment in Maryland and make a recommendation on the abolition of the death penalty in Maryland.[4] On November 12, 2008, the Commission voted 13-7, with Civiletti voting with the majority, to recommend that the Maryland General Assembly abolish capital punishment in the state.[10]

Personal life

Civiletti and his wife, the former Gaile L. Lundgren, had three children, Benjamin H., Andrew S. and Lynne T. Civiletti.


  1. ^ U.S. lawyer charging $1,000 an hour, Vancouver Sun (December 13, 2005).
  2. ^ The Independent Review Board.
  3. ^ "Benjamin R. Civiletti".  
  4. ^ a b "Governor O'Malley Announces Benjamin Civiletti as Chairman of Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment, Announces Commission Members".  
  5. ^ "Legends in the Law: Benjamin R. Civiletti". Bar Report. December/January 1999. Retrieved July 15, 2010. 
  6. ^ Transcript
  7. ^ NPR
  8. ^ [3]
  9. ^ [4]
  10. ^ Dechter, Gadi; Smitherman, Laura (November 13, 2008). "Repeal of death penalty urged".  
Legal offices
Preceded by
Peter F. Flaherty
U.S. Deputy Attorney General
Served under: Jimmy Carter

Succeeded by
Charles B. Renfrew
Preceded by
Griffin B. Bell
U.S. Attorney General
Served under: Jimmy Carter

Succeeded by
William French Smith
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