SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota’s top federal prosecutor is joining his North Dakota counterpart in leaving those posts and opening local offices for a large national law firm that’s expanding to the Dakotas and looking to tap their expertise in the area.
Brendan Johnson, who has been U.S. attorney for South Dakota since October 2009, announced his resignation Wednesday, a week after North Dakota’s U.S. attorney, Tim Purdon, said he would be stepping down.
Department of Justice rules prevent Johnson or Purdon from saying yet where they’re going, but a person with knowledge of the moves who was not authorized to discuss the situation publicly confirmed to The Associated Press that both will join Minneapolis-based Robins Kaplan LLP and open offices in Sioux Falls and Bismarck. Johnson, 39, leaves his job March 11 and Purdon, 46, on March 12.
Johnson said his 5 1/2 years of service is longer than the tenure of most U.S. attorneys and he’s ready to move on.
“It’s a job I’ve loved and has been a really important part of my life,” he said. “I think the work we’ve done has made a difference in people’s lives and I’m really proud of that.”
Robins Kaplan, which won more than $6 billion in a settlement for the state of Minnesota as part of a lawsuit against cigarette manufacturers in 1998, has more than 220 attorneys. It has offices in Minneapolis, New York, Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles and Naples, Florida.
Purdon said Wednesday that he and Johnson used the same legal recruiting firm and were represented by Jane Roberts, wife of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.
“Working closely with Brendan over the past five years on Indian Country public safety issues has been the highlight of my professional life,” Purdon told the AP. “As we discussed our futures, the possibility of continuing our partnership in the private sector was something we wanted to do and we worked hard to make it happen.”
Some Democrats had hoped Johnson would run for the Senate seat left open when his father, U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, retired in January. Rick Weiland, an aide to former U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle, ran as the Democrat in a four-way race easily won in November by Republican Mike Rounds.
President Barack Obama nominated Brendan Johnson to be South Dakota’s 40th U.S. attorney and the Senate unanimously confirmed him in October 2009. Prior to that, Johnson was a federal law clerk in Rapid City for U.S. District Court Judge Karen Schreier, a Minnehaha County deputy state’s attorney in Sioux Falls and a partner in the Sioux Falls law firm now known as Johnson, Abdallah, Bollweg and Parsons LLP.
He graduated from the University of South Dakota and the University of Virginia School of Law.
Johnson said that when he took office the state had never prosecuted a commercial sex trafficking case at the federal level and now it has sent more people to prison for that crime than any other federal district in the country. The office also has had more people receive mandatory minimum sentences for trying to buy sex with a child over the Internet than any other district.
He said he’s also proud of his work on Indian Country and the sharp increase in prosecutions, especially on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations. He was chairman of the Native American Issues Subcommittee from 2009-2013 at the request of Attorney General Eric Holder, who praised Johnson for his leadership, advocacy for people and public service.
“As a lawyer and as a leader, Brendan has set a standard of excellence that will not soon be surpassed,” Holder said in a statement. “Particularly with regard to public safety challenges on tribal lands, he has served as a key adviser to senior Justice Department officials — including me.”
First Assistant United States Attorney Randy Seiler will take over the office until the Senate appoints a new U.S. attorney. In North Dakota, assistant federal prosecutor Chris Myers will take over as acting U.S. attorney.
Associated Press reporter Dave Kolpack in Fargo, North Dakota, contributed to this report.