News & Politics

Enron Prosecutor Goes Defensive

After spending 3½ years prosecuting the biggest corporate-fraud case in American business history, Kathryn Ruemmler has discovered that the rewards are larger than the satisfaction of putting Enron executives in prison. The 36-year-old former prosecutor and one-time editor of the Georgetown Law Review returned to Washington from the Houston federal courthouse to a stack of job offers from DC’s most powerful firms.

The Bethesda resident has left the Justice Department and switched to the defense side for the DC office of Latham & Watkins, whose once-powerful white-collar defense practice has lost several high-profile criminal-defense attorneys—notably Beth Wilkinson, now the general counsel at Fannie Mae, and DeMaurice Smith, now at Patton Boggs.

Their departures opened the door for Ruemmler, whose critical role in the Enron trial had made her the nation’s most sought-after young lawyer.

An outdoors type who often hikes with her English springer spaniel, Sadie, Ruemmler delivered a powerful closing argument that helped convict top execs Jeffrey Skilling and Kenneth Lay; Lay subsequently died of a heart attack.

“That was really shocking,” Ruemmler says. “We didn’t know he had those kind of health problems. It was profoundly sad that he and his family had to spend the years leading up to his death under stress. It was a surreal ending.”

The transition from prosecutor to defense attorney will be an intriguing one for Ruemmler, a former Clinton-administration lawyer who had been at Justice for six years, more than three of them on the Enron case.

“When you are the prosecutor, you are the one driving the train,” she says. “I’m already finding myself thinking, ‘Hey, I was so reasonable and this prosecutor I have to work with now is so . . . unreasonable.’ ”

But making the change easier will be the money. As an assistant US Attorney, Ruemmler made just over $100,000 a year. The average profits per partner at Latham & Watkins are $1.86 million a year.