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Friday, 14 April, 2000, 18:59 GMT 19:59 UK
Janet Reno: From Waco to Elian
Janet Reno: Harvard graduate who struggled to the top of her profession
Janet Reno: Harvard graduate who struggled to the top
Janet Reno, the first woman US attorney-general, began her tenure in the spotlight over the siege of the Branch-Davidian cult at Waco in Texas.

Now, as she nears the end of her period in office, the case of Elian Gonzalez has thrown her into the headlines again.

She has been quoted as saying that she remembers every day of her life the disaster at Waco, when more than 80 people died as federal agents stormed the cult's headquarters.

"I made the decision. I'm accountable. The buck stops with me," she said at the time, silencing some of her critics with her characteristic bluntness.

Sacred bond

The bitter battle for custody over Elian, the six-year-old shipwreck survivor, is also one in which she has become intensely involved.

Appointed too many independent counsels - or too few?
Appointed too many independent counsels - or too few?
She has personally held meetings with Elian and his Miami relatives - who want to keep the boy in the United States - and with Elian's father, who has come from Cuba to take him home.

She also met Elian's grandmothers when they came to plead for his return to Cuba in January.

Ms Reno has never wavered from the position that Elian belongs with his father, citing the "sacred bond" that exists between father and son.

The Elian case is also close to her heart because the drama is taking place in Miami, where she grew up and served as a prosecutor.

"It is a community I was born in, raised in. It is a community I love. And when it's hurting, it hurts me," she said.

As in the Waco instance, however, her handling of the case has been questioned, following her continued failure to get the family to hand over the child.

"I am prepared to enforce the law. But I want to be clear, if we are compelled to enforce our order we intend to do so in a reasonable, measured way," she said at a Miami news conference.

Role models

Janet Reno's path from her childhood home on the edge of the Everglades in Florida to the highest law enforcement office in the US demonstrated her drive and determination.

Reno: diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1995
Reno: Parkinson's disease diagnosed in 1995
Her parents provided her with role models of tenacity and toughness - and an early acquaintance with law enforcement.

Her father, Henry Reno, spent 43 years as a police reporter for the Miami Herald.

Her mother, Jane Wood Reno, raised her four children before becoming an investigative reporter for the Miami News.

Jane Wood Reno was a female version of the classic hard-drinking, chain-smoking reporter, who also hunted and wrestled alligators.

Woman in a man's world

In 1960, Janet Reno enrolled in Harvard Law School. She was one of only 16 women in a class of more than 500 students.

But despite graduating from one of the most prestigious law schools in the country, she had difficulty finding work.

One of Miami's largest law firms denied her a position because she was a woman. Fourteen years later, the same firm would make her a partner.

In November 1978, after holding a number of public positions, she was elected to the office of State Attorney in Florida. She was re-elected four more times.

Bipartisan criticism

In 1993, President Clinton nominated her to become attorney-general. But she was his third choice for the post and has never enjoyed his unqualified support.

She appointed seven independent counsels to investigate him and other senior administration officials.

No previous attorney-general has named so many special prosecutors. But this has not been enough to endear her to the president's Republican foes.

They criticised her for not appointing more independent counsels to investigate campaign finance discrepancies.

But she survived the political bullets to become the longest-serving attorney-general this century - and President Clinton's most durable cabinet member.

She also continued to work despite being diagnosed in 1995 with Parkinson's disease, which has caused trembling in both her arms.

She has said she plans to return to Miami after leaving office in January along with President Clinton.

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26 Aug 99 | Americas
New Waco inquiry ordered
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