Contact: John Caher, Press Office
For immediate release: Wednesday, March 21, 2007
DENISE O’DONNELL CONFIRMED AS DCJS COMMISSIONER
ALBANY, March 21 – The New York State Senate today unanimously confirmed Denise E. O’Donnell of Buffalo as commissioner of the Division of Criminal Justice Services. O’Donnell is a former federal prosecutor and former partner with a major Buffalo law firm.
“As the Commissioner of the Division of Criminal Justice Services, Denise O’Donnell will lead an agency that is focused on ensuring that the state’s law enforcement community and its network of prosecutors are provided with the tools and technologies they need to keep our communities safe,” Governor Eliot Spitzer said. “I know that very soon the entire state will learn what Western New Yorkers have known about her for many years, that when Denise O’Donnell steps forward, she brings the toughness of a federal prosecutor, the skills of a gifted litigator, and the commitment of a true public servant.”
O’Donnell said her immediate top priorities are reducing violent crime, establishing a new office of sex offender management, combating gun violence, reducing recidivism through effective re-entry initiatives and using technology to fight crime.
“I am honored by the confidence Governor Spitzer has shown in me, and eagerly accept the responsibility to serve as his chief policy advisor on criminal justice issues,” O’Donnell said. “New York is already the safest large state in the nation, but it is our goal to make it the safest state. We will pursue that goal through a close working partnership with law enforcement agencies from every corner of the state, and a commitment to intelligence-based policing.”
A native of Western New York, O’Donnell, 59, was the first person in her family to graduate from college. She went on to obtain a master’s degree in social work from the State University of New York at Buffalo and spent a decade in the trenches, focusing on child abuse and neglect, substance abuse and community mental health issues.
O’Donnell enrolled in law school in 1978. While studying at the University at Buffalo School of Law, O’Donnell worked as a legal assistant for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) on a landmark school desegregation case. She graduated summa cum laude in 1982 and spent the next three years as law clerk to Appellate Division, Fourth Department, Justice M. Dolores Denman.
In 1985, O’Donnell accepted a position as an assistant United States Attorney in the Western District of New York, where she prosecuted a wide array of criminal cases ranging from drug offenses to political corruption. She was promoted to appellate chief in 1990 and named First Assistant U.S. Attorney in 1993.
As first assistant, O’Donnell worked on a national investigation that developed crucial evidence against Timothy J. McVeigh, who was convicted of orchestrating the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building. She also created a multi-agency task force to aggressively prosecute gun crimes in Western New York. Her skill at bringing diverse law enforcement agencies together to focus on a common mission proved crucial in the case of James Kopp, an international fugitive eventually captured and convicted of killing Dr. Barnett A. Slepian, a provider of reproductive services in the Buffalo area.
O’Donnell was appointed United States Attorney by President Bill Clinton in 1997 and became the first woman ever to hold the position of top federal prosecutor in upstate New York. She served as Vice-Chair of the U.S. Attorney General’s Advisory Committee in Washington, D.C., where she was a member of the Investigations & Intelligence, Northern Border and Civil Rights sub-committees. In her role as chief federal prosecutor for the 17 counties in the Western District of New York, O’Donnell helped establish a program to prevent housing discrimination and was instrumental in establishing the first Hate Crimes Task Force in Western New York.
After leaving federal government in 2001, O’Donnell became a litigation partner at Hodgson Russ LLP, one of the nation’s oldest law firms. At Hodgson Russ, she concentrated on government regulatory investigations, health care law, civil fraud and false claims act litigation, money laundering and financial crimes and corporate ethics and compliance. O’Donnell has taught at the SUNY Buffalo School of Law and served as a lecturer with the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Legal Education. She was inducted into the Western New York Women’s Hall of Fame and has received numerous awards and honors, including the New York State Bar Association’s Ruth G. Shapiro Award.
O’Donnell was a candidate for New York Attorney General in 2006 and later served as a senior advisor to then-gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer on criminal justice and domestic security issues.
The commissioner and her husband, State Supreme Court Justice John F. O’Donnell, live in Buffalo. They have two grown children, Maura and Jack.
The position pays $127,000-a-year.