U.S. attorney candidate Zach Fardon: Good looks, legal chops, humility like ‘new pope’
BY NATASHA KORECKI Political Reporter Twitter: @natashakorecki March 18, 2013 5:40PM
Zachary Fardon, Attorney, Latham & Watkins LLP
Updated: April 20, 2013 6:34AM
It was one of the last weeks in the trial of former Gov. George Ryan, and the defense was feeling great.
On its witness list was an interim U.S. attorney from another district whose testimony threatened to put the prosecution’s credibility on the line.
“We’ve got the case now,” defense lawyer Dan Webb said at the time, according to Ed Genson, who was also part of the defense trial team. “He really thought he had the government on that one.”
Enter Zach Fardon.
In one of the more dramatic exchanges of the trial, Fardon, then an assistant U.S. attorney, methodically tore apart witness Ed McNally.
“He destroyed him,” said Genson, who represented Ryan codefendant Larry Warner. “When Fardon got through with him, he looked like he wasn’t telling the truth. I regard that as the height of his ability. That was the best cross in the case.”
With his aw-shucks, boyish looks and humble demeanor, Fardon, 46, can be disarming.
But he’s a killer as a trial lawyer, and though he has a fiery side, he has a rare touch that keeps him from burning bridges, those who know him say.
It’s that combination that likely sets Fardon apart as he’s now seen as the lead candidate to take the reins at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago.
Last month, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the list of four finalists who had been forwarded to the White House for consideration had been whittled to two — including Fardon, now a private attorney, and former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot. This weekend, Lightfoot was eliminated from consideration, sources said. A White House official though said an announcement on the position wasn’t expected for another month.
Fardon is best known for his work in the investigation and trial of Ryan, though he often played second fiddle to the lead prosecutor in the case, Patrick Collins. The two, who are good friends, were jokingly called “Starsky and Hutch” by insiders during the trial because they were so often seen working together. They tried the case along with Joel Levin, who also is in private practice as well as Laurie Barsella, who remains at the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Kay Hoppe, of Credentia Inc., who heads a legal search and consulting firm, said Fardon had something appealing to jurors.
“He has the face of an affidavit, as they say. He looks so honest and pure. He’s got that All-American look about him,” she said. “The consistency with which he’s respected as a lawyer and liked as a person is as pure as you’re going to find anywhere.”
Yet, she said he’s not a chest thumper.
“He’s not a showy guy, he’s more understated, he’s like the new pope,” she said.
Genson put it another way: “He’s the anti-Sam Adam Jr.,” he said of the bombastic, camera-loving defense lawyer who represented Rod Blagojevich, R. Kelly and now, Cook County Commissioner William Beavers.
However, Fardon does have fire in his belly. At one point during the Ryan trial, he exploded outside of the presence of the jury, taking aim at Webb.
“Mr. Webb is running roughshod over the truth-finding process,” Fardon told U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer. “He’s the most effective lawyer in this room but in that process he is blowing a tremendous amount of smoke at these jurors.”
Fardon is known for his quick wit, thinking on his feet and pouncing when he sees a weak spot.
He’s also known for his memory. When he gave the opening remarks at Ryan’s trial he spoke for 90 minutes and not once did he look down at any notes.
Fardon had left the Chicago office to work in Nashville, Tenn., but was asked to fly in every week for the trial. For more than six months he was apart from his wife and kids as he flew to Chicago on Sunday nights, stayed for five days, then flew back home for the weekend. When the trial concluded, Fardon returned to Nashville where he served as first assistant in the prosecutor’s office before becoming a partner at Latham & Watkins in Chicago.
Scott Lassar was the U.S. attorney in Chicago when Fardon was assigned to the Operation SafeRoad investigation.
“That was a very strong team that was put together,” Lassar said. Fardon was included in it because: “He was a star in the office.”
Lassar called Fardon “self-effacing and humble, which is unusual for a trial lawyer.”
As for his looks, Lassar said Fardon could create another milestone in the position.
“He’d be the best-looking U.S. attorney since Jim Burns,” said Lassar.