Janet Reno, first female U.S. attorney-general, dies age 78

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The standoff started before Reno was confirmed as attorney general - on February 28, 1993, agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms made a surprise raid on the compound, trying to execute a search warrant, but gunfire erupted, killing four agents and six members of the religious sect. "She never shied from criticism or shirked responsibility, earning her the affection of her subordinates, the respect of her critics, and the esteem of the American people". "But she was also a soft-hearted social worker who cared about people and cared about justice". Yet few questioned her independence and integrity.

The top USA law enforcement officer throughout Clinton's 1993-2001 presidency, Reno came under fire barely one month after becoming attorney general for her handling of a botched April 1993 Federal Bureau of Investigation raid on an armed religious cult in Waco, Texas. In 1993, she took office as the Waco, Texas, standoff was already underway.

In the spring of 2000, Reno enraged her hometown's Cuban-American community when she authorized the armed seizure of 5-year-old Elian Gonzalez. She also investigated her boss' sexual relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky, which led to his Senate impeachment.

"She was so wonderful and her voice was still so clear and so magnificent", Reno later recalled in a 1993 speech to the Women's Bar Association. After a bloody battle between federal agents and members of the extreme Christian cult Branch Davidian, scores of the sect's followers, including children, died either in a blaze that raged through their compound or in a final spate of suicidal gunfire. On the other side, she received honors for enforcing civil rights and regulating violence on TV.

Reno held her position as attorney general for two years before she noticed her hands had begun to shake.

Ms. Reno's tenure as attorney general was bracketed by two explosive events: a deadly federal raid on the compound of a religious cult in Waco, Texas, in 1993, and, in 2000, the government's seizing of Elian Gonzalez, a young Cuban refugee who was at the center of an worldwide custody battle and a political tug of war. "When I formed the Liberty City Optimist Club, Reno was the first person to make a donation to the youth program".

However, she was very visible during her term.

In 2002, Reno ran to become Florida's governor, but narrowly lost in the Democratic primary.

She was one of only 16 women in the 500-strong 1960 class at Harvard Law School, where she received her degree three years later.

As state attorney in Florida, she was responsible for almost 1,000 employees, an annual budget of $30 million and a yearly docket of 120,000 cases, ranging from homicide and child abuse to drug trafficking and white-collar crime. Future Attorney General Eric Holder presented her with the award.

Towards the end of her time as attorney general, the Department of Justice was involved in a case involving a boy from Cuba.

"It took courage and that's what she had, courage", Pertierra said. She talked about the importance of building healthy communities to help prevent crime, and was a pioneer in understanding the importance of DNA evidence in securing convictions and exonerating innocent people. "Her legacy lives on in a generation of lawyers she inspired, the ordinary lives she touched, and a nation that is more just".

The Clintons said in a joint statement that Reno worked hard to balance the need to seek justice against the need to avoid abuse of power. Janet was her mother's daughter.