After interviewing Michigan sports legends like Bo Schembechler, Bill Frieder and Red Berenson, questioning felons involved in terrorism hoaxes, espionage and bank robberies has been a piece of cake for Barbara McQuade.
At a federal courthouse Monday afternoon, McQuade, 45, was the first female sworn in to head the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit. As a U.S. attorney, McQuade will represent the U.S. federal government in civil and criminal cases in the Eastern District of Michigan, which includes Ann Arbor, Flint and Port Huron.
In November, President Barack Obama nominated McQuade, a Democrat, for the position. The Senate confirmed her nomination on Dec. 24.
McQuade will replace U.S. Attorney Terrance Berg and serve a four-year term.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily Monday, McQuade said her days as a University of Michigan student and Daily sports editor played a major role in getting her to where she is today.
McQuade received bachelor’s degrees in communications and economics from the University in 1987 and graduated from the University’s Law School in 1991.
During her time as an undergraduate, McQuade worked for the Daily sports section, covering football, basketball, hockey, volleyball and softball. She also wrote a column called Barb’s Barbs, where she shared her musings on the 1985-86 basketball season and the 1986 Michigan football team.
McQuade ultimately became the managing sports editor in 1986. She was the second woman to hold the position.
McQuade said she loved the respect she received from coaches Schembechler, Berenson and Frieder, who she said always patiently answered her questions and knew her name.
“Although I liked to think they remembered my name because of my work, I think it is more likely that they remembered my name because there were so few female reporters then,” McQuade said.
Continuing to set new precedents, McQuade said she is ready to be the first female to lead the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit. She cited women like Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy and Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a former Michigan attorney general, who McQuade said are two women who have “served with great distinction” and paved the way for her career.
“I have really ridden their coattails to some extent, and I think that it’s no longer a novelty (to be a female with a high position),” McQuade said. “People have an expectation that women can serve as effective prosecutors.”
McQuade said one of her goals in her new position is to prevent violent crimes in Michigan by having her office take on an increased role in enforcement.
With the state’s budget in crisis, McQuade said county prosecutors are working with limited resources and are having trouble “keeping up with the workload.” To help alleviate the pressure, McQuade wants her office to step in and address issues like the high rates of carjacking, armed robbery and firearm cases.
“I think that violent crime is what really affects people’s lives and the quality of life in our state,” she said. “If we can make a dent in violent crime, we can really improve people’s lives.”
Since 1998, she has served as deputy chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Office National Security Unit, where she has advised law enforcement on security issues concerning major events in the Metro Detroit area.
McQuade worked at sporting events like the 2004 Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills, the 2005 Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Comerica Park, Super Bowl XL in 2006 and the 2009 NCAA Final Four at Ford Field.
McQuade’s interest in government can be traced back to her days as a Daily reporter, she said. During that time, her favorite book was “All the President’s Men” — a story about two journalists who investigated President Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal.
“What reporters and prosecutors do is very similar — looking for wrongdoing and looking for misconduct and trying to expose that,” she said. “I think that influence certainly inspired me to do what I do today.”
University alum and Student Publications board member Phil Nussel traveled with McQuade on road trips, covering the Michigan football team during their four years working together in the Daily’s sports section during the mid-1980s.
Nussel, who is now managing editor of Automotive News Online, distinctly recalled one trip to the 1987 Rose Bowl, when Michigan lost to Arizona State 22-15. Despite the loss, McQuade said covering the Rose Bowl was the highlight of her journalism career.
Their junior year, Nussel and McQuade ran against each other for the position of managing sports editor. In a close election, McQuade won by two votes. Now, 24 years later, Nussel joked about how he lost by a slim margin but said McQuade was perfect for the job.
“She won by a couple votes, and she deserved it,” Nussel said. “She was an outstanding journalist, and I really thought she had a career in journalism ahead of her. I didn’t think she’d go into law, but she turned out to be a hell of a lawyer.”
University alum Eric Mattson was the editor-in-chief while McQuade was sports editor. In an interview last week, Mattson said it was impressive for a woman to be managing sports editor and lead the sports section of a newspaper in those days.
He added that he loved working with McQuade because he could always count on her to get a job done.
“I have to say that Barb was the most consistent, reliable, sharp editor that you could hope to deal with,” Mattson said. “She ran a tight ship, but at the same time, you could tell that she and her writers were having a really good time.”
When Mattson heard McQuade received the U.S. attorney position, he said he was not the least bit surprised by the announcement.
“If you would have told me 20 years ago that she would have been U.S. attorney someday, that would not have surprised me,” he said. “And frankly it would not surprise me if she continues to move up the ladder.”
Joe Ewing, a University and Daily alum, worked with McQuade in the sports section for three years. He said he remembered her having a great sense of humor and getting along with everyone.
“She took everything in stride — especially in a sports department where it seemed to be more male-dominated — but she never seemed to be intimidated by anybody,” Ewing said.
Nussel said McQuade has superb leadership skills that will get her through difficult moments over the next few years.
“The thing about Barb McQuade is that nothing ever fazes her,” he said. “She’s a cool customer. That’s the kind of mentality you need when you’re the most important law enforcement official in southeast Michigan. You have to really be able to keep your cool and she does that.”
Nussel said that he’s most impressed that McQuade has time to raise her four kids, ages 6 through 12.
“To be as successful as she is and to still have time to raise a family is pretty amazing stuff,” he said.
McQuade met her husband Dan Hurley while they attended Law School at the University. As an assistant U.S. attorney, Hurley works with McQuade at the attorney’s office.
McQuade said she’s lucky to have her husband for support but is confident she’ll be able to balance her job and family.
The McQuades currently live in Ann Arbor and remain dedicated Michigan sports fans, McQuade said.