After nearly three decades with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia, Special Counsel Patricia Riley will retire later this year. The District of Columbia Council recently honored her with a ceremonial resolution (PDF) that went into effect on Friday.
As special counsel since 1999, Riley has crafted and promoted the office's legislative efforts before the council. She has yet to decide on a formal retirement date, but expects it will be around September.
"I hope I’ve made a contribution of some duration to making this a better, fairer system," Riley said. The resolution, which she said she was unaware of, praised her "unparalleled legacy of legislative accomplishment and commitment to public service."
Riley joined the office in 1984, following four years as an associate at Steptoe & Johnson LLP. In 1990, she became chief of the newly established sex offense section, which she led for nine years until her appointment as special counsel.
She estimated she had worked on at least 100 pieces of legislation. When asked what legislative efforts she was most proud of, Riley cited reforms to the city’s sex offense laws, starting with the Anti-Sexual Abuse Act of 1994. That law changed the city’s sex offense laws to be gender neutral and expanded the types of offenses, among other things.
Riley also cited revisions to the city’s anti-stalking laws, reforms to local sentencing rules, and victims’ rights legislation, including the Community Impact Statement Act of 2010. That law allowed community members to submit statements to the court during the criminal sentencing process, along with victim impact statements.
Since 2000, Riley has also served as the U.S. attorney’s office’s representative to the District of Columbia Sentencing and Criminal Code Revision Commission and as the representative to the Criminal Jury Instructions for the District of Columbia (Redbook) Committee since 1996.
U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen Jr. said in an e-mail that Riley “has been an institution in this office and will be sorely missed.” Machen said he relied on Riley “tremendously,” citing her expertise on criminal law. “It is difficult to flip through the D.C. Code, the D.C. Sentencing Guidelines, or the Criminal Jury Instructions without coming across a provision that she has authored,” he said.
On a personal note, Machen said he interviewed with Riley 15 years ago when he was applying to be an assistant U.S. attorney. “[I]f she had not had faith in me back then, I would have never had the opportunity to subsequently interview" for the position with then-U.S. Attorney Eric Holder Jr., he said.
The council’s resolution noted that besides her work in the U.S. attorney’s office, Riley helped create the D.C. Bar Lawyer’s Assistance Program, which offers advice to members of the legal community going through personal or professional problems. She currently works as an ethics officer in the U.S. attorney’s office.
On June 19, she'll receive the Beatrice Rosenberg Award for Excellence in Government Service, named after the former DOJ official who for years had argued more cases before the U.S. Supreme Court than any other woman.
Riley said she hasn’t decided what she’ll do after she retires. Having served under 11 U.S. attorneys in Washington, she said, it was simply time to move on.
“It’s just been a tremendously rewarding experience,” she said.