New Hammond-based U.S. Attorney Thomas L. Kirsch II has big shoes to fill in continuing the office's tradition of battling public corruption and violent street gangs.
On Tuesday, about 36 hours after being sworn into office, Kirsch began giving clear public signs he's up to the task.
Speaking to a lunch gathering of the Crown Point Rotary Club, Kirsch vowed to make white collar crime — most notably, government corruption cases in Northwest Indiana — a top priority.
This mirrors a needed check and balance on a plague of public corruption, against which the U.S. attorney's office has won more than 70 felony convictions since the 1980s.
Kirsch, a Munster native and Schererville resident, has the pedigree to prove it.
Though he most recently was a Chicago-based attorney, including presiding over federal criminal defense cases, Kirsch also is a former longtime assistant U.S. attorney with the Hammond office.
During that time, one of his prime focuses was the prosecution of public corruption cases. In fact, as he noted at the Rotary luncheon Tuesday, the last public corruption indictment he won before leaving the office came in 2008 against politically connected Gary businessman Jewell Harris.
Harris ultimately was convicted of fraud and money-laundering charges for double-billing Gary during the 2001 construction of the U.S. Steel Yard baseball stadium.
Beyond Kirsch's proven pedigree in prosecuting public corruption is an apparent strong ethical compass.
After Tuesday's luncheon, Times Editorial Page Editor Marc Chase asked Kirsch how his office planned to handle the prosecution of indicted Portage Mayor James Snyder going forward.
Snyder faces a January trial for felony bribery and tax-related charges.
Until recently, Kirsch had been the retained private defense attorney for Snyder. Now he heads the office prosecuting his former client.
Kirsch had the correct response to Chase's question.
"I don't know how the office is handling it, and I don't want to know," he said.
Kirsch has completely recused himself from any and all actions involving the case.
It's the right thing to do in an important Region criminal prosecution.
Kirsch has set a tone of ethics that should serve as an example for other government offices throughout our Region.
We wish him well as he seeks to continue a strong tradition of justice, which often is one of the only meaningful checks on our local systems of government.