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Senate confirms Mark Lapointe as Miami U.S. Attorney. He's the first Haitian-American in post

Markenzy Lapointe was confirmed by the United States Senate Tuesday night as the U.S. attorney for South Florida, making him the first Haitian American lawyer to serve in the region’s most powerful federal law enforcement position. Lapointe, a former U.S. Marine and ex-federal prosecutor who was raised in Haiti and Miami, was nominated in September by President Joe Biden to fill the position, which is responsible for directing about 250 prosecutors in a district extending from Key West to Fort Pierce. It is considered one of the busiest districts in the country because of the region’s steady stream of financial fraud, drug trafficking and internet crimes.

Of late, the Miami-based U.S. Attorney’s Office has worked with the Justice Department and FBI in an investigation of former President Donald Trump and his alleged mishandling of classified documents at his Palm Beach estate, Mar-a-Lago. TOP VIDEOS × Lapointe expressed his gratitude to President Biden, the Senate and the South Florida community for supporting his appointment as U.S. Attorney. “The opportunity to serve this community and country in this capacity is the greatest honor — I never dreamed of it,” Lapointe told the Miami Herald. “I’m equally moved by the support from so many in this community throughout this process. Miami-Dade’s Top 50 best-paid employees See who earns the most in Miami-Dade County government READ MORE “I’m looking forward to maintaining the level of excellence that is consistent with the history of that office,” said Lapointe, who will now go through the process of leaving his Miami law firm and soon joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The Senate confirmed Lapointe in a voice vote, according to its website. The Senate Judiciary Committee, in an 18-2 vote, had moved his nomination to the full Senate last Thursday. University of Richmond law school professor Carl Tobias, who follows Senate confirmations of U.S. attorneys and judges, said Lapointe’s nomination “sailed through” without a roll call vote because “there was no reason for debate.” “He is well respected, has the support of both of Florida’s senators and is well qualified,” Tobias said. The Southern District of Florida position has been held by career federal prosecutor Tony Gonzalez since the resignation of Trump-appointed U.S. attorney, Ariana Fajardo Orshan, in April 2021. It took an inordinate amount of time to fill because of the politics of presidential nominations for top federal prosecutors as well as district and appellate judges in a Senate that is sharply divided by Democrats and Republicans. Two years into his term, Biden has nominated 67 lawyers to the 93 U.S. attorneys’ jobs in the country, with about 60 confirmed and the rest pending confirmation.

Lapointe, 54, was long considered the front-runner for the position in South Florida, with early support from Sen. Marco Rubio, the Miami Republican who wields tremendous influence on U.S. attorney and judicial nominations in the state. U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Miami Democrat, was also an early supporter of Lapointe’s nomination, promoting his unique credentials and background behind the scenes with both Rubio and President Biden and penning an op-ed piece about him. “As a former U.S. Marine, ex-federal prosecutor, and product of Miami-Dade, Markenzy Lapointe shares a unique perspective on the issues plaguing our communities and brings a clear vision along with a wealth of experience to lead this critical office,” Wilson said in a statement. “Confirmed to serve as the first Haitian American U.S. Attorney, Mr. Lapointe is shattering glass ceilings.”

Last year, Lapointe gained bipartisan backing from two Senate and House nominating committees in South Florida that recommended four finalists for the U.S. attorney’s job — thanks largely to his broad legal background and American Dream immigrant backstory. The other three finalists were former federal prosecutors Jacqueline Arango and Andres Rivero, now in private practice, and Michael Hantman, a partner at Holland & Knight. Lapointe’s nomination moved forward this fall despite a decade-old Miami-Dade state attorney’s investigation into a political corruption allegation involving a North Miami development project, then-Mayor Andre Pierre, and Lapointe. The probe died within weeks, according to public records, and Lapointe said he never knew anything about it until the Miami Herald asked him about it earlier this year. Lapointe, who rose from humble origins to work as a young lawyer for the U.S. Attorney’s Office before practicing at two major Miami law firms, aligned with Biden’s 2020 campaign pledge to appoint more people of color and women to federal leadership and judicial posts. Former federal appeals court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who also grew up in Miami, was confirmed in April as the first Black woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court and sworn in as an associate justice in June. Longtime colleague and friend, Miami attorney Luis E. Suarez, who has been a partner with Lapointe at the Boies, Schiller & Flexner law firm, said the nomination capped a career of commitment to the legal profession and South Florida community. “It’s like watching a game-winning goal during the World Cup,” Suarez said on Wednesday. “You experience awe and joy at the same time.”

Lapointe grew up in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where his mother worked as a street vendor and his father as a tailor. He came to Miami as a 16-year-old to live with his mother and other siblings in Liberty City, during the racially turbulent 1980s. His mom worked as a cleaning lady at Stefano’s restaurant on upscale Key Biscayne, but his dad was absent from the home. Lapointe worked as a cab driver and at a bar at the same Key Biscayne restaurant. He graduated from Miami Edison Senior High School in 1987, and joined the U.S. Marines as a reservist while attending Miami-Dade College for a couple of years. In 1990, he transferred to Florida State University. But Lapointe had to put school on hold when he was called up as a reservist by the Marines after Iraq invaded Kuwait and the Persian Gulf War erupted. “I was there for six months,” Lapointe, who missed his first year at FSU while serving a tour of duty in Iraq, told the Miami Herald in an interview earlier this year. “Going to war representing the United States was particularly meaningful to me,” said Lapointe, who left the Marines as a corporal after serving six years as a reservist. “It mattered to me as an immigrant who came here and could contribute to this country in a special way.”

Lapointe graduated from Florida State University in 1993 with a B.S. degree in finance, worked at a Miami bank for a couple of years and then completed law school at FSU in 1999. After graduation, Lapointe worked as a law clerk for Florida Supreme Court Justice Harry Anstead. Following that two-year stint, he joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2002 and began to learn the skills of a trial lawyer. He left the federal prosecutor’s office four years later to join Boies, Schiller & Flexner, which has offices in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and other major cities. There, he specialized in commercial, federal criminal and high-risk product liability cases. In 2017, he joined the Miami law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, as his professional and political profile rose in South Florida. Last year, he received a major legal award for his professionalism and pro bono work in the community. As a visible figure in Democratic and Haitian American political circles, he also has been a frequent fundraiser for elected judges. In addition to Lapointe, the Senate also confirmed Roger B. Handberg on Tuesday night to serve as the U.S. attorney in the Middle District of Florida, which includes Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville.