Pursuing Justice

Eileen Decker '90 brings her counterterrorism experience to her role as United States attorney for the Central District of California.

When Eileen Decker ’90 was confirmed in June 2015 as United States attorney for the Central District of California (CDCA), Senator Dianne Feinstein—who had recommended Decker’s nomination—lauded her qualifications for the job as “impeccable.” The CDCA encompasses seven counties including Los Angeles and serves the largest population of any district in the United States. For Decker, who has spent the majority of her professional life in the CDCA and Los Angeles, this new position is the natural next step in a career devoted to the pursuit of justice.

Eileen Decker '90

“The concept of appearing in court and fighting for justice and being an advocate for a cause was always very appealing to me,” says Decker. “I didn’t really have a role model in that arena—my mother was a telephone operator and my father was an electrician—but it was something that I always had a natural inclination towards.” 

Decker pursued this inclination first as an undergraduate at NYU, then at NYU School of Law, where she cites then-Professor John Sexton and Adjunct Professor Andrew Schaffer as being particularly influential in her education. Studying under Schaffer—himself a former assistant US attorney—helped Decker find her focus in criminal law. “When he talked about his war stories in court, and of course, when he talked criminal procedure, I really felt strongly that I wanted to explore that area of the law,” Decker says.

Following law school, Decker clerked for US District Judge Gary Taylor for the CDCA, then spent three years at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Los Angeles before becoming an assistant US attorney in the CDCA. There, she started off working on major fraud cases before transferring to the organized crime unit, where she became a supervisor.

After September 11, 2001, Decker’s focus shifted. “Being from New York, the attack struck very close to home. I lost a friend from high school that day,” Decker says. “And so I volunteered to work on counterterrorism matters.”

Decker created—and became the first chief of—the national security section of the US Attorney’s office for the CDCA, working exclusively on counterterrorism and counter-espionage matters. “Everything was new and challenging. We needed to evaluate what laws were on the books that could assist us in this effort, and to begin to work with the intelligence community on ensuring we were doing everything possible to protect the United States,” Decker says. “That period of time was, in many ways, just an extraordinary time to be an attorney.”

Decker continued her focus on counterterrorism when she moved to the office of the mayor of Los Angeles, where she served as deputy mayor for homeland security and public safety, a position that she held under both Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Mayor Eric Garcetti. “I was working on the same types of issues, just from a different perspective,” Decker says. “Whether I was working on human trafficking issues or cyber-security—it was more of a policy-based approach, rather than a strictly legal-based approach.”

“People know Eileen as a smart, ethical, hardworking leader. I’ve known her as a friend,” says Decker’s classmate Steven Benson ’90, senior vice president of business and legal affairs at CBS. “She has a perspective of what counts in being a human, even when she herself is under incredible pressure.”

Counterterrorism will continue to be a high priority for Decker in her new role as US attorney for the CDCA, alongside issues such as combating violent crime, human trafficking, and exposing financial institutional fraud. Since taking on her new role, Decker has already made headlines with a number of high-profile cases, including the arrest of a former JP Morgan analyst charged with insider trading and the arrest of a man who sought to provide material support to ISIS.

Decker also points to police reform as a matter of high importance for her office, which already has a number of public corruption cases under way. “Those type of cases indicate the impact that our office can have in terms of changing an institution that’s so important to our vitality as a region,” Decker says. “I believe those cases epitomize what a US Attorney’s office is: the watchdog of other institutions within our district.”

Posted October 1, 2015