Dawn N. Ison Changes the Game as Michigan’s First Black Female U.S. Attorney  

Dawn N. Ison is the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan.  

Photo courtesy of the United States Attorney’s Office Eastern District of Michigan 

 

When Dawn N. Ison was sworn in as the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan by Chief United States District Judge Denise Page Hood recently, she made history as the state’s first Black woman in that role.    

Ison, who most recently served in the U.S. Attorney’s Public Corruption Unit, is now heading up one of the largest U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the country. The office currently employs around 221 personnel in three locations (Detroit, Flint and Bay City) and serves over 6.5 million residents.   

“I am very honored,” Ison told the Michigan Chronicle. “There are so many other women and Black men and women alike who were qualified to serve in this role. We have had two Black men in this role [before me]. They created a path for me and I am happy to create a path for those who follow. I might be the first but I [will] not be the last.”  

Ison, a Detroit native who served as an assistant United States Attorney for over 19 years, said that her position serves as the “pinnacle” of her career, according to a press release.   

“We will continue to work hard to ensure the protection and safety of every citizen in this district and make sure the people of this richly diverse community feel valued,” she was quoted as saying in the press release.   

President Joe Biden nominated Ison last month on November 12, and she was confirmed by the Senate on December 14. Ison succeeds Saima S. Mohsin who was appointed as the Acting U.S. Attorney in January.   

When Ison served as an assistant United States attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, she prosecuted drug trafficking offenses at the highest level in the Office’s Drug Task Force Unit. She also served as chief of that unit, which is the largest unit in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Since 2014, Ison has served as the Office’s District Election Officer, and also represented the Office in the federal court’s alternative to prison program. Early in her career, Ison spent 12 years as a criminal defense attorney.    

Throughout her career, Ison has accomplished numerous notable moves including handling large-scale, complex, multi-defendant prosecutions. Ison’s work has been nationally recognized on several occasions by the Department of Justice and more recently by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. She has also received U.S. Attorney’s Awards for Outstanding Service and for Superior Performance by a Litigation Team. During her career, Ison has taken more than 50 cases to trial both as a prosecutor and as a defense attorney.   

After law school, Ison served as a Prehearing Attorney for the Michigan Court of Appeals. She graduated from Spelman College in 1986 and received her law degree from Wayne State University Law School in 1989.   

Ison told the Michigan Chronicle that she is “grateful” for all of the people who mentored her along the way. Her main goal throughout her career has stayed the same: helping provide opportunities to others who wouldn’t otherwise be considered and also to those qualified at all levels.  

“I want to help them the way I’ve been helped to have this incredible opportunity [to serve] Detroit — my community,” Ison said, adding that she is also proud to serve other areas of Michigan including Flint, Saginaw and Pontiac.  

Ison also said that her not-so-easy life was made stronger after the murder of her father and being raised by her mother who was a postal worker raising three children.  

As the wife of a retired police officer and mother to a Black son, Ison said through her lived experiences she knows how vitally important the role of a public servant is.  

“I’ve had family members who have struggled with addiction and family members with brushes with the law,” she said. “All these experiences I bring to this role in addition to extensive professional experience. … as a public servant.”   

    

 

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