Lisa Zornberg, a lawyer in private practice and a former senior Manhattan federal prosecutor, will return to public service as chief counsel to Mayor Eric Adams, the mayor said Wednesday.
Ms. Zornberg, 52, who will assume the post next month, succeeds Brendan R. McGuire, who has been chief counsel since Mr. Adams took office in January 2022.
Ms. Zornberg’s appointment comes as Mr. Adams is trying to develop policies to cope with a continuing influx of thousands of migrants, a soaring population of homeless residents and sharp criticism of New York City’s management of its troubled jails on Rikers Island, which have been beset by violence and self-harm among detainees.
Just last week, Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, called for an outside authority to take control of Rikers, and a judge, citing the jails’ dangerous conditions, questioned whether the city and its Correction Department could run them safely. The mayor has defended his commitment to turning around the department and said the jails have improved.
The chief counsel, in addition to advising on key policy and legal issues, oversees nearly a dozen agencies, including the offices for labor relations and procurement, and an advisory committee on judicial appointments.
The mayor, in a statement, called Ms. Zornberg “a dedicated public servant who has taken on the corrupt and the criminal, keeping our nation and our city safe.” He added, “We know she will now be a force for good for our city’s residents.”
Ms. Zornberg said, “A government run with integrity and passion for solving real problems remains, in my view, the best way to lift up people and communities, and that’s what I’m here to do.”
Ms. Zornberg, a partner at the firm Debevoise & Plimpton, was chief of the Southern District’s criminal division from 2016 to 2018, supervising investigations and prosecutions by roughly 170 prosecutors.
She oversaw the early stages of the case against the man convicted this year of killing eight people in a 2017 terrorist attack on a bike path; the corruption retrial and conviction of Dean G. Skelos, the former Republican majority leader of the New York State Senate; and the prosecution of Michael D. Cohen, the one-time fixer for Donald J. Trump. Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to violating campaign finance laws and other charges.
She also supervised the 2018 bribery trial and conviction of Norman Seabrook, the former head of the city’s correction officers’ union.
Earlier in her career, Ms. Zornberg spent 14 years in the Southern District, rising to become chief of the complex frauds unit. The Village Voice, in a 2010 article citing her effectiveness in a mob-related case, called the 5-foot-1-inch lawyer “a tiny tornado of a prosecutor.”
Ms. Zornberg, who was born in Sea Gate, Brooklyn, is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. She also clerked, from 1997 to 1998, for Sonia Sotomayor, then a district court judge and now a Supreme Court justice.