The first female Attorney General in the United States, Janet Reno, has passed away from complications of Parkinson's disease at the age of 78.

Reno headed up the Department of Justice under Bill Clinton for eight years from 1993 to 2001, the second longest tenure in that position.

Soon after starting the job she partly oversaw the FBI's controversial raid on the compound of cult leader David Koresh in Waco, Texas, where 80 of his followers died following a 51-day standoff.

She also oversaw the investigations of her employer, Bill Clinton, after it emerged in 1998 that he had sexual relations with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Reno's goddaughter Gabrielle D'Alemberte told the Associated Press of her death. She said Reno died at home in Miami surrounded by family and friends.

Reno was one of two women who, under the Clinton administration, vaulted to some of the most powerful positions in the country. Madeleine Albright became the first female secretary of state in 1997.

After finishing Harvard Law School in 1963, Reno held a series of government legal positions in Florida before being named State Attorney for Dade County in 1978. She held that position until 1993 when she was tapped for the top justice roll.

During her time as a state attorney she prosecuted a series of high-profile cases and took on child abusers. The investigative show PBS Frontline said she was on a "crusade."

As attorney general she made several controversial decisions. She angered the Cuban-American community in her home state when armed FBI officers captured then five-year-old Elian Gonzales who had barely survived a boat crossing from Communist Cuba that killed his mother. Reno returned the boy to his father in Cuba.

She was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1995 and announced it as a press conference where she said she would keep doing her job unimpaired.