Eli Richardson – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee

Strictly speaking, judges are not agents of law enforcement.  Rather, they serve as neutral magistrates, balancing the playing field between the prosecution and the defense.  Nevertheless, several prominent judges have risen to the bench with law enforcement experience.  For the second time this year (after Trevor McFadden in June), President Trump has nominated a former law enforcement official to the federal bench: former FBI agent Eli Richardson.


Eli Jeremy Richardson was born in 1967.  He attended Duke University, graduating with a Bachelors of Engineering degree in 1989.  Richardson went on to Vanderbilt Law School, overlapping slightly with another Trump judicial nominee, Claria Horn Boom.  At Vanderbilt, Richardson served as a member of the Vanderbilt Law Review and graduated Order of the Coif in 1992.

Upon graduation, Richardson moved to Grand Rapids, MI, working as an Associate at Warner, Norcross, & Judd, LLP.  In September 1993, Richardson moved to Atlanta to work as an Associate at Rogers & Hardin LLP.  After two years there, in 1995, Richardson moved into solo practice, founding Richardson & Associates in the Atlanta suburb of Conyers.

In 1998, Richardson left the practice of law, moving to Newark, NJ as a Special Agent in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).[1]  In that capacity, Richardson worked on public corruption and counter-terrorism.  In 2002, Richardson joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark as a federal prosecutor.

In 2004, Richardson moved to Nashville to be an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Middle District of Tennessee.  He rose rapidly in the position, becoming Criminal Chief for the office in 2008.  Upon the election of President Barack Obama, Richardson left the U.S. Attorney’s Office and moved to the Department of Justice, moving to Belgrade, and working as a Resident Legal Advisor for Serbia, assisting Serbian judges, police, and prosecutors on rule of law issues.

In October 2010, Richardson moved back to Nashville to become a Member at Bass, Berry & Sims PLC.  While he has taken on additional roles over the years, including as an Adjunct Professor at Vanderbilt University, Richardson continues to serve as a Member as of his nomination to the federal bench.

History of the Seat

Richardson has been nominated for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee.  This vacancy opened on December 1, 2016, when Judge Todd Campbell retired from the bench.  Campbell, a former aide to Vice President Al Gore, was appointed to the federal bench at the relatively young age of 39, but retired at 60 due to an unnamed disability.[2]  As the vacancy came very late in the Obama Administration, no nominee was put forward to fill the vacancy.  Richardson was tapped by President Trump on  July 13, 2017, along with three other Tennessee nominees.[3]

Legal Experience

Richardson’s varied legal career can largely be broken down into three distinct periods for analysis: the first is from 1992-1998, where he worked in private practice.  The second is from 2002-2010, where Richardson worked as a federal prosecutor and DOJ attorney.  The final is from 2010-2017, where Richardson worked at Bass Berry in Nashville.

Richardson’s first job out of school was working as an associate at Warner, Norcross & Judd, LLP. in Grand Rapids. After moving to Rogers & Hardin in Atlanta, Richardson began to handle more complex commercial litigation matters.  For example, Richardson was part of the legal team representing S.N. Patel in his fight for control of Alpha Investment Properties, a motel operation company.[4]  After forming his own practice, Richardson represented telemarketer Alfred Estfan in his unsuccessful defense against charges of violating the Federal Trade Commission Act.[5]  Richardson also defended Sunrise Carpet Industries against an action for excess premiums from its insurance company.[6]

As an AUSA in Newark, Richardson worked on many criminal matters, but emphasized terrorism-related cases.  After moving to Nashville, Richardson shifted focus to white collar crimes.  For example, Richardson helped prosecute Albert Ganier, the founder of Education Networks of America (ENA) for obstruction of justice and destruction of evidence.[7]  Richardson also prosecuted violent crimes[8] and firearm cases.[9]  In 2009, Richardson moved to the Department of Justice, serving as a legal advisor in Belgrade to Serbian lawyers, judges, and law enforcement.[10]

After returning to Nashville, Richardson joined the Compliance and Government Investigations practice group at Bass, Berry & Sims.  In that role, Richardson successfully defended Charles Wells, a cigarette supplier, against charges relating to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).[11]  Richardson also represented David Miller in charges that he had made a false statement to a bank.[12]


Despite not being an academic, Richardson has written extensively on issues of criminal law, trial practice and attorney ethics.  Here are some themes from Richardson’s writings.

Double Jeopardy

The Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment protects Americans against multiple punishments for the same offense.  For much of the 20th Century, double jeopardy was analyzed under the test set out by the Supreme Court in Blockburger v. United States.  In Blockburger, the Supreme Court held that a single act or transaction could violate multiple statutory provisions without implicating double jeopardy, as long as each separate offense required the proof of a different element.[13]  In 1990, the Supreme Court abrogated the Blockburger test in Grady v. Corbin, which held that the government could not prosecute an individual for an offense if an essential element of the crime charged constitutes an offense already prosecuted.[14]  Three years after Grady was decided, it was overruled by United States v. Dixon, which reimposed the Blockburger test.[15]

In 1992, between Grady and Dixon, Richardson published his law review note as a student, analyzing Grady and Blockburger.[16]  In the note, Richardson argues that Blockburger both underprotects and overprotects defendants.[17]  As such, Richardson argues that Grady should provoke a reform of Blockburger and a move away from its standard.[18]

In 1994, after the decision in Dixon, Richardson published an additional article criticizing the decision.[19]  Specifically, Richardson criticizes the Court for moving away from a “same offense” standard on double jeopardy:

“Simply put, the muddled state of double jeopardy jurisprudence is cause largely by the Supreme Court’s abandonment of what should be the anchor of the Court’s double jeopardy analysis: a requirement of same offenses.”[20]

Despite his criticism of Dixon, Richardson does not only argue that the Court is shortchanging criminal defendants.  Rather, he also argues that the Blockburger test confuses the difference between successive prosecutions and multiple punishments, and that, under the Double Jeopardy Clause, the former should be restricted more than the latter.[21]

Attorney Ethics

As a young lawyer in 1994, Richardson authored an article on the ethical obligations of attorneys.[22]  The article advocates a reform of the federal rules of attorney ethics, arguing that the current rules are cumbersome and that “lawyers cannot possibly determine what the applicable rules are, let alone determine whether or not they are in compliance.”[23]

In a more recent article co-authored with former federal judge Robert Echols, Richardson outlines best practices for white collar defense attorneys.[24]  Among other practice tips, Richardson urges defense attorneys not to lob ad hominem attacks against prosecutors.  Specifically, Richardson urges defense counsel to make charges of misconduct “where well-grounded and in the client’s best-interest”[25] but notes that unfair attacks may “be an uphill battle that ultimately damages counsel’s credibility.”[26]

Political Activity

Richardson does not have a particularly active political donation history.  His only contributions of record are two contributions, totalling $300 to the congressional campaign of Grant Starrett, a Republican who was challenging Rep. Scott DesJarlais in the Republican primary.[27]  The contributions were made months before Starrett’s campaign faced criticism over Islamophobic campaigning.[28]

Overall Assessment

For the most part, Trump’s district court nominees have not attracted much controversy.  As he has not represented any controversial clients, or taken any divisive stances, and as his legal writings are fairly anodyne, Richardson is unlikely to be any different.  If confirmed, Richardson will likely add another moderate conservative voice to the Tennessee federal bench.

[1] Eli J. Richardson, Linkedin Profile, https://www.linkedin.com/in/elirichardsonlawyer/ (last visited Sept. 14, 2017).

[2] Stacey Barchenger, Federal Judge to Retire From Bench in Nashville, Tennessean, Nov. 15, 2016, http://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2016/11/15/federal-judge-retire-bench-nashville/93932624/.

[3] Press Release, President Donald J. Trump Announces Fifth Wave of Judicial Candidates (on file at www.whitehouse.gov) (July 13, 2017).

[4] See Patel, et al. v. Alpha Investment Properties, Inc., et al., 458 S.E.2d 476 (Ga. 1995).

[5] Fed. Trade Comm’n v. Gem Merchandising Corp., 87 F.3d 466 (11th Cir. 1996).

[6] Home Ins. Inc. v. Sunrise Carpet Indus. Inc., 493 S.E.2d 641 (Ga. App. 1997).

[7] See United States v. Ganier, 468 F.3d 920 (6th Cir. 2006).

[8] See United States v. Jones, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 50030 (M.D. Tenn. July 10, 2007).

[9] See United States v. Hamblen, 239 Fed. Appx. 130 (6th Cir. 2007).

[10] Tennessee Bar Journal, Article: You Need to Know: People, 45 Tenn. B.J. 9 (March 2009).

[11] City of New York v. Chavez, et al., 944 F. Supp. 2d 260 (S.D.N.Y. 2013) (granting Wells’ motion for summary judgment on RICO claims).

[12] United States v. Miller, 734 F.3d 530 (6th Cir. 2013).

[13] Blockburger v. United States, 284 U.S. 299 (1932).

[14] Grady v. Corbin, 495 U.S. 508 (1990).

[15] United States v. Dixon, 509 U.S. 688 (1993).

[16] Eli J. Richardson, Matching Tests for Double Jeopardy Violations with Constitutional Interests, 45 Vand. L. Rev. 273 (Jan. 1992).

[17] Id. at 306 (noting that Blockburger underprotects defendants in successive prosecutions, but overprotects them in multiple punishments).

[18] Id. at 307.

[19] Eli J. Richardson, Eliminating Double-Talk From the Law of Double-Jeopardy, 22 Fla. St. U.L. Rev. 119 (Summer 1994).

[20] Id. at 143.

[21] See id. at 149.

[22] Eli J. Richardson, Demystifying the Federal Law of Attorney Ethics, 29 Ga. L. Rev. 137 (Fall 1994).

[23] Id. at 140.

[24] Robert L. Echols and Eli J. Richardson, White-Collar Defense, 47 Tenn. B.J. 14 (Dec. 2011).

[25] Id. at 19.

[26] Id.

[27] Center for Responsive Politics, https://www.opensecrets.org/donor-lookup/results?name=eli+richardson (last visited Sept. 14).

[28] Scott Broden, Grant Starrett Mailer Attacking DesJarlais Also Offends Muslims, Daily News Journal, July 20, 2016, http://www.dnj.com/story/news/2016/07/20/mailer-attacking-desjarlais-also-offends-muslims/87264290/.

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: The Latest And Greatest In President Trump’s Judicial Nominations (Part 2) – edkundahl

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