Pittsburgh-based U.S. attorney and Obama nominee resigning


Associated Press

PITTSBURGH — U.S. Attorney David Hickton, a Democrat and President Barack Obama nominee, is resigning as federal prosecutor for western Pennsylvania.

His resignation, announced Monday, takes effect Nov. 28.

A turnover among U.S. attorneys is customary when a person of another political party becomes president. Republican Donald Trump was elected last week and will name a new attorney general to head the Department of Justice next year.

Hickton said in a written statement: “The opportunity to serve as a United States attorney in this administration has been the professional privilege of a lifetime and the highlight of my career.”

Hickton, 61, took office in 2009. The office covers Pennsylvania’s 25 westernmost counties. Two other U.S. attorneys are assigned to the state — one at Harrisburg, the other at Philadelphia.

Under Hickton, the office took a more aggressive stance against international cybercriminals, including the prosecution of European hackers who infected business and personal computers worldwide with malware and a case targeting Darkode, an English language cybercriminal marketplace where hackers traded and sold secrets that was dismantled by the FBI last year.

Most recently, Hickton headed a working group aimed at combatting the heroin and opioid crisis.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said Hickton’s office “has been at the forefront of some of the Justice Department’s most consequential achievements of the last few years.”

“There is no doubt that the United States is a stronger and safer place because of David’s many contributions,” she said in a statement.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald called Hickton “a great force for positive outreach among communities and law enforcement in western Pennsylvania.”

“His impact and interaction with all segments of the community, including many that have been left behind previously, gave people a seat at the table and a voice,” he said. “Because of his involvement, we were able to avoid many of the issues that other communities faced.”

U.S. attorneys don’t have to quit when the opposing party wins the presidency, but they usually do.

“There’s a common turnover that happens at this time,” said Bruce Antkowiak, a St. Vincent College law professor and former assistant U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh. “When the new party comes into power, it’s sort of a common courtesy or acknowledgement of the (political) situation that the U.S. attorneys all get their resumes together.”

Hickton had been active in Democratic politics and helped found the Pittsburgh firm of Burns, White & Hickton in 1987 before he was nominated by Obama and confirmed by the Senate.

Antkowiak said Trump’s administration will probably rely on local or regional political power brokers — up to and including U.S. Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey — to determine who he names to replace Hickton.

Hickton replaced Mary Beth Buchanan, a George W. Bush nominee. In 2001, the 38-year-old Buchanan became the first female and youngest ever U.S. attorney in Pennsylvania.