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Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor graduated with honors from Ivy League schools. But she may have learned some of her most memorable lessons as a young prosecutor, following police into abandoned tenements and tracking down witnesses on the grimy streets of New York.

Sotomayor joined the Manhattan District Attorney's office in 1979 during an epic crime wave. Muggings, burglaries and assaults were rampant; homicides topped 1,800 a year. She was recruited from Yale Law School by Robert M. Morgenthau, Manhattan's district attorney. She was 25, and her starting salary was $17,000.

The cases in Trial Bureau 50 seasoned the idealistic young lawyer and honed her trial skills. She could shred a witness on cross-examination and move a jury to tears, former colleagues recalled.

New York City was awash in heroin, street crime and gun violence. To prepare for trials, she followed police into tenement shooting galleries, scaled rickety staircases in dilapidated buildings and fought off the stench of squalor to talk to reluctant witnesses.

Sotomayor's former colleagues and her legal foes describe her as intense, driven and politically astute. Read full article »

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