First woman US attorney general Janet Reno dies aged 78

Ms Janet Reno, the first US woman attorney general, has died at aged 78.
Ms Janet Reno, the first US woman attorney general, has died at aged 78.PHOTO: EPA

MIAMI (AFP) – Janet Reno, the first female US attorney general and a lightning rod for Republican attacks during Mr Bill Clinton’s presidency, has died in Florida, US media reported. She was 78.

Ms Reno died early on Monday (Nov 7) at her Miami home due to complications from Parkinson’s disease, her sister Maggy Hurchalla told CNN.

The top US law enforcement officer throughout Mr Clinton’s 1993-2001 presidency, Ms Reno came under fire barely one month after becoming attorney general for her handling of a botched April 1993 FBI raid on an armed religious cult in Waco, Texas.

Some 80 people died when the Branch Davidian cult’s compound went up in flames.

Her other actions included ordering the Miami relatives of six-year-old Cuban shipwreck survivor Elian Gonzalez in 2000 to surrender the boy to federal authorities.

US immigration officials determined that Mr Gonzalez’s father had the right to take his son from his estranged exile Cuban Miami relatives, who had cared for the boy since his rescue months earlier at sea attempting to immigrate to the United States.

US agents burst into the home and retrieved the boy at gunpoint, then returned Mr Gonzalez to his father in communist Cuba.

One of the longest-serving US attorney generals, her Department of Justice handled prosecutions in the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing and two cases of domestic terrorism, the 1995 Oklahoma City federal building bombing and the “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski.

Other cases included an anti-trust lawsuit against Microsoft, and suing the tobacco industry along with several states to recover healthcare money spent on people who suffered the effects of smoking.

Ms Reno was born in Miami on July 21, 1938, the daughter of Henry and Jane Reno, two newspaper reporters.

Ms Reno enrolled at Cornell University in New York in 1956 and became president of the university’s Women’s Self Government Association.

She was one of only 16 women in the 500-strong 1960 class at Harvard Law School, where she received her degree three years later.

Her experience prior to working in public service ranged from waitressing and working as a dormitory supervisor during college, to being a partner at the Miami law firm Steel, Hector and Davis from 1976 to 1978.

Ms Reno chaired the Florida Governor’s Council for the Prosecution of Organised Crime in 1979-80.

As state attorney in Florida, she was responsible for nearly 1,000 employees, an annual budget of US$30 million (S$41.68 million) and a yearly docket of 120,000 cases, ranging from homicide and child abuse to drug trafficking and white-collar crime.

Ms Reno helped reform the state’s juvenile justice system and pursued defaulting fathers for child support payments. She also helped establish the Miami Drug Court, which provides alternative punishment for non-violent offenders suffering from addiction.

Upon leaving office, Ms Reno, who was six foot, two inches tall, saw her bid to run for governor in 2002 thwarted when she narrowly lost in the Democratic party primary.

Her post-government work included a 2013 appearance as a guest character on the animated show “The Simpsons.”