Not many people can say they work in their childhood dream job. But Rachelle DesVaux Bedke can.
DesVaux Bedke, supervisor of nearly 40 federal prosecutors, first became interested in law at 14, after her father died and her mother took a job working for the Nevada state attorney general. DesVaux Bedke remembers being particularly interested in the people who prosecuted criminals as a public service. So she joined a speech and debate club, to start practicing.
Two decades later DesVaux Bedke is the chief of the criminal division for the southern half of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida, based in Tampa. She supervises 31 criminal prosecutors in Tampa and seven in Fort Myers.
DesVaux Bedke started this management role two years ago, after she developed a stellar reputation prosecuting cases herself. The promotion means a shift from memorizing all the ins and outs of a case to figuring out the best way to hire, train and communicate policies to prosecutors and assistants. It's like going from top salesperson to sales manager.
“It's a completely different skill set,” she says. “I'm certainly still learning how to handle a wider variety of issues.”
Her biggest challenge is making decisions on issues she's less familiar with. It's unknown territory for a former prosecutor who's used to pulling all-nighters to memorize tiny case details.
DesVaux Bedke was awarded the Top Prosecutor Award from the Women in Federal Law Enforcement Foundation in June, due in large part to that attention to detail. She was recognized for her work in convicting six individuals in a fraud and money laundering case, with more than $137 million stolen from investors worldwide.
“I like putting the puzzle together — I find that interesting and challenging,” DesVaux Bedke says. “You put the story together and tell it to the jury in a way that they can understand...to get the bad guys off the street.”
DesVaux Bedke's husband, Tampa-based real estate and transactions lawyer Michael Bedke, brought DesVaux Bedke to Florida. The two met working together over the phone on a pro-bono service project for the American Bar Association's Young Lawyers Division. DesVaux Bedke was in San Francisco at the time.
DesVaux Bedke worked in commercial litigation at Tampa-based law firm Trenam for six months. Then she received her dream opportunity, to work for the U.S. Attorney's Office. Going on nearly 19 years later, DesVaux Bedke's still there, and is still having the time of her life working in public service.
DesVaux Bedke has no regrets about her cases, she says, because if she's prosecuting someone and realizes the evidence is not there to support a charge, or the person might not be guilty, she can change course. “We have the luxury of doing the right thing,” DesVaux Bedke says. “Our job is to do justice, not make more money or serve the interest of a particular client.”
One of Rachelle DesVaux Bedke's favorite cases was accidentally assigned to her when it was mistakenly considered a fraud case.
The case involved theft of government property, when a college student stole an Apollo lunar sample from the Johnson Space Center in Houston. DesVaux Bedke, now supervisor of prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa, had to prove the value of moon rocks. She called Harrison Schmitt, a geologist and former astronaut, as a witness.
“I had to explain to the jury why it was so valuable for educational and scientific purposes,” DesVaux Bedke says. “What other job can you have that you get to call an astronaut to the stand?”