Back in Bundy West, government major Tracee Plowell ’95 was bent on going to law school, then returning to her hometown and running for mayor. But her semester in Hamilton’s Washington, D.C. program quickly convinced her that politics wasn’t for her. Soon she would answer a call to public service in another direction, then go on to eventually build an impressive and varied career in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Plowell is an expert in the investigation and prosecution of white collar, corruption, and complex fraud. Her work in the department included serving as acting deputy director of the Federal Witness Security Program and as a member of the Attorney General's Capital Case Review Committee. Among other responsibilities, she provided expert counsel to federal law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and senior officials, including on the use of special investigative techniques.
Before that, as an assistant U.S. attorney and an attorney with the Public Integrity and Fraud sections, Plowell tried more than 20 federal jury trials and led numerous high-profile cases. Recently she took a position with the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and agreed to answer some questions for us about her new job.
Please tell me about the work you do at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
I am a senior litigator in the CFPB’s Office of Enforcement. To that end, I work with a team of attorneys, investigators, and analysts, to investigate potential violations of the Federal consumer financial laws and take action to address violations where appropriate, to include litigation. The Office of Enforcement’s work is critical to furthering the CFPB’s goal of ensuring a fair marketplace for consumers.
What drew you to the job?
Read about other alumni who are making an impact in their professions and communities throughout the world.
After serving as both a state and federal prosecutor for more than 20 years, I decided that I wanted to learn something new, but remain within public service. I considered requesting a transfer to another component within the D.O.J., but realized that it was time for me to not only learn something new, but also be somewhere new — and leave the comfort of the D.O.J. It was important to me that my next job would allow me to continue to help a broad section of the public. I was familiar with the C.F.P.B.’s enforcement work and found it to be very similar to the work I was doing in the Fraud Section and decided that it would be a good fit.
Can you talk about a recent case you worked on that you are especially proud of?
I am so new to C.F.P.B. that I have not seen any cases to fruition. My only matters are in active litigation, so I cannot comment.
At the Department of Justice you were involved in various capacities in high-profile criminal investigations and prosecutions. When did you discover that you wanted to do that type of work? And what was the appeal?
I knew very early on that I wanted to be a trial lawyer. During law school, I participated in the criminal justice clinic where I spent one semester as a defense attorney and one semester as a prosecutor. I liked helping my individual client as a defense attorney, but I truly believe I was called to be a prosecutor to help crime victims (and society as a whole) access justice. I have a very clear memory of being a young prosecutor at the Manhattan D.A.’s Office and being asked by a senior colleague why I was preparing my misdemeanor trial like it was the trial of the century. My response was simple — to the victim in the case, this is the trial of the century, so I needed to treat it as such and give it my best effort. That’s why I loved being a prosecutor — so many people did not feel like the criminal justice system was available to them to provide redress — I wanted to change that.
What’s the most challenging part of being a litigator?
The most challenging part of being a litigator is ensuring that you remain civil to your adversary throughout the proceedings. Litigation can be hot-tempered, but remembering that your adversary is not your enemy is vital. You can argue your point and disagree without resorting to name-calling and bad faith tactics. I think we’ve lost a bit of civility in litigation and that is disappointing.