Lynne Anne Battaglia, who is likely to become Maryland's next U.S. attorney, first envisioned a career in public service when she was a schoolgirl in a small town on Lake Erie.
An attraction that began with student government in high school was cemented when she went to college in Washington.
Ms. Battaglia, now 47, was a freshman at American University when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. That episode, she said, affected her deeply.
She was among the crowd outside the church during the president's funeral procession.
"We waited from 5:30 in the morning to watch the casket," Ms. Battaglia recalled. "I think I always wanted to be involved in government and public policy. If there was any doubt that I wouldn't, that sealed it."
Twenty-nine years later, she is on the verge of becoming Maryland's top federal prosecutor.
Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat, has asked the Clinton administration to nominate her to the $113,000 post.
If nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate, she would oversee 60 prosecutors.
She would be the first woman to hold the job permanently -- U.S. Magistrate Judge Catherine C. Blake held the position on an interim basis -- and would bring to the job experience in the federal and state criminal justice systems.
Ms. Battaglia brought federal charges against bank robbers and tax evaders and later, on behalf of the state, planned the strategy to investigate and prosecute Maryland health department officials charged with skimming money from the State Games program.
John M. Staubitz Jr., former deputy health secretary, pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to commit misconduct in office and was sentenced to prison.
Ms. Battaglia, who is now chief of staff for Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, has been an assistant U.S. attorney, a Justice Department lawyer and chief of the Maryland attorney general's criminal investigations division.
And she has taught counseling and negotiations at the University of Maryland law school off and on for more than a decade.
Born in Buffalo, she is the granddaughter of immigrants. Her mother's parents were from what is now Poland and her father's parents came from Sicily.
Her father was a traveling pharmaceutical salesman until Ms. Battaglia was 11, when he settled into his own pharmacy.
Anthony and Regina Battaglia, a secretary who became a full-time homemaker, moved their family of three children to nearby Silver Creek, N.Y.
At American University, Ms. Battaglia earned a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in international relations.
After beginning work on a doctorate at Georgetown University, she entered the University of Maryland law school at age 28. She got her law degree in 1974.
Ms. Battaglia is described as a good administrator by those who worked under her at the Attorney General's office and praised for her legal judgment by lawyers who have opposed her.
Fred W. Bennett, the former federal public defender in Maryland, was trying to win acquittals for criminal defendants when Ms. Battaglia was working for convictions as a federal prosecutor from 1978 to 1982.
He said she was "a skilled advocate" who came to court prepared and left jurors with a good impression.
He said her inexperience as a rookie prosecutor may have been a weakness, but it never appeared to hurt her cases.
"Her background in both state and federal law will be helpful," in that position, Mr. Bennett said.
Praise from the other side
Stephen M. Schenning, a defense lawyer who has opposed her in federal cases, said she made good decisions when determining whether to prosecute.
He said that although she backed the positions of her office, "she listened to the defense bar."
Ms. Battaglia left her first job in law, as an associate handling mostly defense work at the Baltimore law firm, Semmes, Bowen & Semmes, to become a federal prosecutor.
She shared an office suite with the man she is expected to succeed, Richard D. Bennett, also an assistant U.S. attorney at the time.
The two prosecutors worked together on her second case, U.S. vs. Eades, which set a precedent by giving federal prosecutors authority to use Maryland criminal law in federal rape cases. Until then, they had to use federal law, which did not break down sexual offenses into as many gradations.
Richard Bennett, a Republican who had to leave his post after President Bush lost, predicted that Ms. Battaglia would do "a fine job" as U.S. attorney. He added that among her qualities is great ambition.
"But I would never criticize anyone for being ambitious," said Mr. Bennett, who wants to be Maryland's attorney general.
"She's dedicated to her professional career and she is devoted to her son," he said, referring to her 16-year-old, Scott Hammond.
Ms. Battaglia said her biggest setback as a federal prosecutor was her failure to gain a conviction in 1980 of an Iranian man arrested at Baltimore-Washington International Airport with three high-powered rifles. He was charged with exporting weapons from the United States.
Seyed A. Mosavi was acquitted after his lawyer successfully argued that his client had bought the rifles for hunting.
The Iranian complained after the trial that he was arrested only because his purchase came during the U.S. hostage crisis in Iran.
The prosecution was justified, Ms. Battaglia contended. "We were concerned that the guns were going to Iran and could be used to kill Americans."
Ms. Battaglia said she matured greatly during her years as an assistant U.S. attorney, a position that gave her power that a careless prosecutor could easily abuse.
She said she has learned "to make the distinction of being hard-nosed when I need to be and compassionate when it's appropriate."
She said she has been more hard-nosed when it comes to prosecuting career criminals ("We should punish them and put them in jail for a long time") and white-collar criminals ("You see premeditation where people are greedy"). She said the compassion may come in a case where an otherwise harmless person commits a nonviolent crime out of desperation.
At the attorney general's office, she recalled, the administrative prosecution of two Howard County sheriff's deputies in 1991 was one of her most important cases.
The deputies, who were twin brothers, were charged with making Nazi-like statements and gestures on the job. She convinced a trial board that their actions were unbecoming of police officers.
The deputies were fired.
"She was a very good administrator and she is a very good lawyer," said Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. "I always thought it was good to have Lynne's input as to whether we were on target with an investigation."
She was also the office's chief lobbyist in Annapolis.
Ms. Battaglia said she joined Senator Mikulski's staff because it was a good career opportunity.
Kenneth Mannella, director of Gov. William Donald Schaefer's Washington office, called Ms. Battaglia "terrific to work with" in her job with the Maryland senator. He said Ms. Battaglia "goes the extra mile trying to help you" and praised her judgment and patience. "She's extremely savvy about how the world works," he said.
Her return to criminal justice could require loosening some of the political ties she has made.
At least that's the advice of David W. Marston, who left the staff of Sen. Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania to become U.S. attorney in that state's eastern district in 1976.
"You have to have a U.S. attorney who is independent of political forces," he said. "You have to have someone who is not reachable on the phone by a congressman's staff, a senator's staff, a mayor's staff, or any of them."
Loves a mystery
Away from hectic public life, Ms. Battaglia reads mystery novels -- she mentions John Grisham as a favorite author -- and watches movies in her spare time.
Her friends are people she's met at work, in politics and on the sidelines of her son's athletic events.
She moved to Columbia 12 years ago after a divorce from her second husband. They have joint custody of their son, Scott, a gifted athlete who transforms his mother into a "soccer mom" and "baseball mom" on weekends.
"He's been the greatest thing in my life," she said.
Sitting beside his mother, Scott described her as an enthusiastic supporter. Real enthusiastic.
"She's very, very loud," he said of her screaming and shouting from the bleachers. "Sometimes too loud."
Four years ago, mother and son took a three-week trip in the West. Experiences like that, she said, have contributed to her happiness.
"I'm real satisfied with my life," she said. "Sometimes I think I work too hard, and sometimes I feel stressed out like everybody else, but I like who I am."
Ms. Battaglia said she gets help in dealing with stress from acupuncture, which she discovered after learning of an orthopedic problem that made it difficult for her to run.
The problem vanished soon after she started treatments.
Now, she is an avid runner -- a veteran of 10K races who jogs daily.
She gets acupuncture four times a year, with the arrival of each season.
"Acupuncture provides great mind, body, spirit connections," she said. "It keeps a balance in your energy flow, and it keeps me going."