JD Rowell joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado on Jan. 6. Rowell moved to the job from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina and takes over as criminal division chief.
The following Q&A has been edited for style and length.
LAW WEEK: How does the criminal division chief job work? How much discretion do you have in that role in setting priorities or deciding how to take on cases?
JD ROWELL: If you were to look at our organizational chart, I would say [the position] is squarely in the middle of middle management. I am below the first assistant U.S. Attorney, Matt Kirsch, and then I directly supervise the four criminal section chiefs.
Our four sections are economic crime, national security and cybercrime, narcotics, and violent crime and immigration. And those match our priorities as far as what types of crimes we handle and what problems we have authority to prosecute under federal law.
The Department of Justice has various levels of supervisory approval that is required in every U.S. Attorney’s Office, so as the criminal chief, I have authority to approve charging decisions. I also have authority to approve plea negotiations. As far as discretion to decide what types of crimes we prosecute, they obviously flow from the presidentially appointed U.S. attorney and also from the executive branch. And those priorities are fairly well laid out by the Department of Justice.
My job is to ensure that we’re complying with department policy and then also to carry out the goals and objectives and priorities of the U.S. Attorney, [Jason] Dunn.
LAW WEEK: You already alluded to this being a larger office, and a little bit of a bigger city. What makes the Colorado office different from what your experience has been so far?
ROWELL: The department [of Justice] ranks offices by size. Both South Carolina and Colorado’s U.S. Attorney’s offices are characterized as large districts. South Carolina, I think, was barely a large district. I think Colorado, is solidly on the larger side of large districts. Obviously, Denver being the large city that it is in the center of the country, I would compare it to big offices like the Southern District of New York or the Eastern District of Virginia, in that it’s somewhat of a melting pot. You have people from all over the country coming to live in Colorado, vacationing in Colorado, so that naturally is a conduit for a larger range of criminal activity.