Rural SAUSA or AUSA (DC Superior Court)?

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Rural SAUSA or AUSA (DC Superior Court)?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Jun 12, 2019 12:38 pm

I'm struggling to decide between two options now and would appreciate any feedback. I have a compensated SAUSA offer in a small midwestern city. It's a two-year term, but could become permanent. I wouldn't be considered a federal employee as an SAUSA. The town has a population of about 100,000, but there's very little else nearby for a couple hundred miles. I went to law school nearby, and I know I don't want to live there long-term. I'd be prosecuting drug cases (HIDTA). I probably won't be in trial too often.

I also have the option of working for USAO-DC in the Superior Court Division. It's a four-year commitment, and the trial caseload is supposed to be grueling. I'd be unlikely to handle anything other than local crimes (non-federal) in the first four years. I am seeking more trial experience but the quality of life may not be great. I'm not sure how many federal exit options I'd have afterward. I don't think I'd want to live in the DC area long-term.

My ultimate goal is to get back to the west coast or southwest as an AUSA. I'm currently an ADA in a larger coastal city and have about 4 years of experience here. It took me a few years to make it back here from the midwest, so I'm a little hesitant to leave, but AUSA openings are rare here. I have 15 jury trials (much less than my peers) and I'd like to continue getting trial experience, but I also want to make the federal jump before it's too late.

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Re: Rural SAUSA or AUSA (DC Superior Court)?

Postby cavalier1138 » Wed Jun 12, 2019 12:45 pm

DDC has the reputation for having the best trial AUSAs in the country, and I believe it's pretty standard to start in the Superior Court Division. I know AUSAs who moved from DDC to other offices with no issue; if anything, you have more street cred from doing so many trials. I don't think it'll lock you down to the mid-Atlantic/East Coast region, either.

I have a feeling that a small midwestern office is likely to be more limiting in terms of mobility after that position ends (or if you go to work at that office).

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Re: Rural SAUSA or AUSA (DC Superior Court)?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Jun 12, 2019 12:58 pm

OP here. Thank you very much, that all makes sense. Leaning towards DDC then. Also seems more stable than a grant-funded SAUSA job (though I know DDC has the typical 14 month probation).
Last edited by Anonymous User on Wed Jun 12, 2019 4:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Rural SAUSA or AUSA (DC Superior Court)?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Jun 12, 2019 2:59 pm

cavalier1138 wrote:DDC has the reputation for having the best trial AUSAs in the country, and I believe it's pretty standard to start in the Superior Court Division. I know AUSAs who moved from DDC to other offices with no issue; if anything, you have more street cred from doing so many trials. I don't think it'll lock you down to the mid-Atlantic/East Coast region, either.

I have a feeling that a small midwestern office is likely to be more limiting in terms of mobility after that position ends (or if you go to work at that office).


What's your source for this?

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Re: Rural SAUSA or AUSA (DC Superior Court)?

Postby cavalier1138 » Wed Jun 12, 2019 3:07 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
cavalier1138 wrote:DDC has the reputation for having the best trial AUSAs in the country, and I believe it's pretty standard to start in the Superior Court Division. I know AUSAs who moved from DDC to other offices with no issue; if anything, you have more street cred from doing so many trials. I don't think it'll lock you down to the mid-Atlantic/East Coast region, either.

I have a feeling that a small midwestern office is likely to be more limiting in terms of mobility after that position ends (or if you go to work at that office).


What's your source for this?


Current AUSAs, former AUSAs, former DOJ attorneys, and the glaringly obvious reason: DDC prosecutors go to trial way more often than prosecutors in any other federal office. Most new AUSAs are lucky if they try a single case in their first year. DDC AUSAs start in the equivalent of state court and have the same level of trial exposure as new ADAs in a comparable jurisdiction.

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Re: Rural SAUSA or AUSA (DC Superior Court)?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Jun 12, 2019 3:48 pm

hmmm, interesting. i find it a bit hard to believe (and have not heard the same in speaking with numerous ausas) that DDC ausas have a reputation for being the "best trial AUSAs in the country." i wonder if there is some conflation between experience and skill going on here, if that is what people are truly saying about DDC ausas. In other words, it may be that what people really mean by claiming that DDC ausas are the best trial auasas in the country is that they get the most experience--a fact that is certainly true, but does not necessarily lead to the most "skilled" trial attorneys.

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Re: Rural SAUSA or AUSA (DC Superior Court)?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Jun 12, 2019 5:08 pm

As an AUSA, I haven’t heard that either.

I mean it could well be true and a function of the circles I hang out in, I just haven’t heard it. To the extent going to trial often is the relevant criterion, local prosecutors would also fall in that bucket, and that’s not quite how they’re really seen (often they’re excellent trial attorneys but the standards in state court are different and they can develop habits that don’t fly in federal court). I know DDC is federal law but since it functions as a state court I’m not sure it’s entirely comparable to other AUSAs.

(No disrespect meant to my DDC colleagues, who I’m sure are all impressive trial attorneys and doubtless better than me.)

OP, I do agree you’re going to get way more trial experience and probably be able to move more easily from DDC than the flyover SAUSA (I also say flyover with respect since I’ve been there and don’t mean it as disparaging).
Last edited by Anonymous User on Wed Jun 12, 2019 8:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Rural SAUSA or AUSA (DC Superior Court)?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Jun 12, 2019 7:27 pm

Let’s be clear: going to trial in superior court in DC is far far different from going to court in federal district court. There is none of the formality in superior court that is present in a normal federal district court and “trials” often consist of one witness: the officer.

The DDC AUSAs on the federal side often handle very complex cases but they don’t go to trial any more often than other high profile jurisdictions. And very very few superior court AUSAs ever make it to district court.

This is not to disparage AUSAs in superior court, but it really is more akin to state court prosecution than being a federal prosecutor.

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Re: Rural SAUSA or AUSA (DC Superior Court)?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Jun 12, 2019 8:33 pm

DOJ Main Prosecutor here:

It honestly depends on what you want to get out of your experience:

My contacts in DDC do a lot trials in superior court. But like other posters have said, it is akin to state level prosecution in that the cases are simple in comparison to District Court cases. You will slog through 3-4 years at this work, rotating through divisions (appellate, DV, guns, Drugs etc) for the opportunity to move to the District Court divisions. I have heard grumbling from my contacts because they are not being promoted to District Court divisions even after 4 years of service, due to allocation of resource issues (can't move everyone to spots that don't exist and are not needed, and would need to hire more AUSAs to do the grunt work, which is not in the budget). As such we have seen many of the DDC AUSAs trying to get out that office, but still practice in DC, by applying to different components within Main.

In flyover districts, the district court cases will be more complex than DDC, but your exposure will be relatively limited. I work in a division that deals with high-profile cases, and we relatively deal with the large, renowned offices. The flyover districts rarely work cases that are national or international in scope. While the work you do there may not be renowned around the country it will be very complex in comparison to the work you are guaranteed to do for 4 years in DDC.

It is up to you-do you want to do grunt work and learn a lot of state level practice in a fast paced environment with the hope of one day doing complex high profile cases in DC District Court?

Or do you want to do complex cases in a district that you don't see yourself living in the foreseeable future, with less of a profile?

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Re: Rural SAUSA or AUSA (DC Superior Court)?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jun 13, 2019 1:20 pm

DOJ Main Prosecutor here:

It honestly depends on what you want to get out of your experience:

My contacts in DDC do a lot trials in superior court. But like other posters have said, it is akin to state level prosecution in that the cases are simple in comparison to District Court cases. You will slog through 3-4 years at this work, rotating through divisions (appellate, DV, guns, Drugs etc) for the opportunity to move to the District Court divisions. I have heard grumbling from my contacts because they are not being promoted to District Court divisions even after 4 years of service, due to allocation of resource issues (can't move everyone to spots that don't exist and are not needed, and would need to hire more AUSAs to do the grunt work, which is not in the budget). As such we have seen many of the DDC AUSAs trying to get out that office, but still practice in DC, by applying to different components within Main.

In flyover districts, the district court cases will be more complex than DDC, but your exposure will be relatively limited. I work in a division that deals with high-profile cases, and we relatively deal with the large, renowned offices. The flyover districts rarely work cases that are national or international in scope. While the work you do there may not be renowned around the country it will be very complex in comparison to the work you are guaranteed to do for 4 years in DDC.

It is up to you-do you want to do grunt work and learn a lot of state level practice in a fast paced environment with the hope of one day doing complex high profile cases in DC District Court?

Or do you want to do complex cases in a district that you don't see yourself living in the foreseeable future, with less of a profile?


OP here. I very much appreciate you and other posters taking the time to offer analysis.

I don't mind doing more grunt work if it sets me up for more options down the road. I actually enjoy prosecuting local crime in my current position. It isn't incredibly complex at my level (I do mid-level financial crimes now), but it is high volume.

I do have some concerns about burnout in DDC, as I've spent the last few years working 70 to 80 hours a week, and Superior Court may be even more of a grind.

I am not in a rush to handle substantially complex cases, but I do want to be a in a position to eventually to find a long-term sustainable trial pace. I'd like to get to the point where I'm maybe only doing 6 trials a year. I like the thrill of trials but I know it's hard to juggle that with a family (which I don't have yet).



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