Before he became a partner of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, one of L.A.'s largest law firms, Robert Bonner had distinguished himself throughout decades of public service, especially in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The Georgetown law school graduate and former U.S. Attorney and U.S. District Judge for the Central District of California also headed up the Drug Enforcement Administration under the first President Bush. Months before 9/11, Bonner was nominated by George W. Bush to be the 17th Commissioner of the U.S. Customs Service. When the Department of Homeland Security was formed in 2003, Bonner oversaw the merger of some 41,000 personnel. He became Customs and Border Protection commissioner. When the one-time Judge Advocate General for the U.S. Navy retired from Washington in November, he came back to the law firm that had been his home throughout the 1990s. Bonner maintains an office in Washington, but he's now on the other side, defending corporations against federal and state prosecutions.

Question: How did you get interested in the law?
Growing up in Wichita, Kan., I was a science major and on track for a career in chemistry. In my sophomore year at college, I realized my math skills were more rote learning than conceptual understanding, so I switched to political science. I grew up with the law around me: my father went to University of Kansas Law School, and had a general practice with his two bothers. I also had a great uncle on my mother's side who was a California District Court of Appeals Judge. He built a house in Pasadena in 1930. Years later, when it came on the market, I bought it.

Q: What made you come out to Los Angeles?
The Georgetown law school faculty encouraged graduates with strong academic records I was in the top 10 percent of my class to do law clerkships. I was a kid from Kansas who had heard all these stories about Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach, and thought California sounded great. I took a one-year clerkship for Albert Lee Stephens Jr., a federal district judge in Los Angeles. This was back when federal judges only had one clerk. Judge Stephens became a great mentor.

Q: Why have you gone back and forth between the public and private sector?
To paraphrase Oliver Wendell Holmes, "one can live greatly in the practice of law," and I've been fortunate with some incredible opportunities over my career. The motivation to public service comes from my parents; they inculcated the idea that if you're lucky enough to have had education, ability, and opportunity, it's your obligation to give back to society.


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