People - January 2006

Lawyer gathered evidence against Iraqi war criminals
By Kathy Brown

Think you’ve had a bad day at work? Well, your problems — late-paying customers, a crashed network, whatever — pale in comparison with dodging hostile fire and wearing a flak vest to meetings.

That was all in a day’s work for Anne Tompkins, now a partner in the Charlotte office of Alston & Bird LLP, during her nine months in Baghdad as an adviser to the Iraqi Special Tribunal. She and three other former federal prosecutors helped gather evidence to be used against accused Iraqi war criminals — including Saddam Hussein.

“Nothing was easy,” Tompkins, 43, says. She lived in a trailer on the grounds of the U.S. Embassy, carried a SIG Sauer P228 handgun — she never used it — and traveled everywhere with a military escort. After insurgents killed an interpreter, “we had to stop traveling by roads.” Instead, they used helicopters, even for five-mile trips.

She volunteered for legal duty in Iraq after hearing that the Justice Department was recruiting lawyers to assist Iraqi prosecutors. “This was the biggest case I could possibly work on. It was the chance of a lifetime.” Upon arrival in Iraq in August 2004, the four lawyers and 20 federal agents worked 14 hours a day, exhuming evidence from mass graves, interviewing witnesses and analyzing documents. During one court hearing, Tompkins came face to face with Saddam Hussein. “There is an aura he puts off that he doesn’t seem to have assimilated that he’s not the president of Iraq anymore.”

A Waynesboro, Va., native who grew up in Charlotte, Tompkins earned a bachelor’s in political science from UNC Charlotte in 1984, then completed a master’s in public administration from UNC Chapel Hill in 1988. She went to work for the city of Charlotte as a budget analyst. But she really wanted to be a lawyer — following in the footsteps of her grandmother — so she went back to Carolina and got a law degree in 1992. She then went to work for the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s office. High-profile cases included the 1996 trial of serial killer Henry Wallace, which ended with a guilty verdict and death sentence for murdering nine women.

In 2001, Tompkins became a federal prosecutor for the Western District of North Carolina. She handled white-collar cases — tax, environmental and money-laundering issues — and also headed a violent-crime and narcotics unit.

After returning to Charlotte in April, Tompkins joined 700-lawyer Alston & Bird as a partner in its litigation and trial-practice group. She now defends clients accused of white-collar crimes. She’s working on a complex, document-heavy, health-care fraud case but confesses, “After Iraq, nothing is a hard day’s work.”