Diane Gujarati – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York

Diane Gujarati was the last judicial nominee that President Obama sent to the Senate during his Presidency, nominated on September 13, 2016.  Needless to say, Gujarati was not confirmed that year.  However, her renomination by President Trump is giving her a second chance at a lifetime appointment.

Background

Diane Gujarati was born on July 6, 1969, the daughter of Damodar Gujarati, a professor of economics at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and an immigrant from India.[1]  Gujarati attended Barnard University, graduating summa cum laude in 1990. Gujarati then attended Yale Law School, graduating in 1995.  She then clerked for Judge John Walker on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

After her clerkships, Gujarati became an associate at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP in New York City.  After three years there, Gujarati became an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.  She currently serves as Deputy Chief of the Criminal Division for the Office.

History of the Seat

Gujarati has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.  This seat has an impressive pedigree, having previously been held by two notable luminaries: Judge Jack Weinstein; and Judge John Gleeson.  Gleeson resigned the bench on March 9, 2016, opening this vacancy.  While the seat opened fairly late in the Obama Administration, Gujarati was nonetheless nominated on September 13, 2016.  Gujarati was never processed by the Republican Senate and was sent back to the White House in January 2017.

In June 2017, Gujarati’s name was broached by the White House to New York’s Democratic senators as part of a package of nominees.[2]  Gujarati was officially nominated on May 15, 2018.

Legal Experience

Other than her clerkship and a short stint at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, Gujarati has spent her legal career as a federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, working on criminal matters.  Early in her stint, Gujarati prosecuted security guard Ronald Ferry for lying to federal authorities about finding a pilot radio in the room of an Egyptian student shortly after the 9/11 attacks.[3]  Gujarati asked for a six month sentence, which the judge allowed Ferry to serve on weekends.[4]  The lenient sentence drew criticism from student in question, Abdallah Higazy, and the New York Daily News, which called it a “slap on the wrist.”[5]  Gujarati also helped prosecute N.Y. mob boss Louis Daidone, who had allegedly once stuffed a dead canary in the mouth of an informant he killed.[6]

As she gained seniority in the office, Gujarati served as Deputy Chief of the Appeals Unit of the Criminal Division from 2006 to 2008.  During that time, she supervised a series of appeals including a Confrontation Clause challenge brought by an alleged mob member,[7] and a timeliness challenge in a securities case.[8]  She then served as Chief of the White Plains Office from 2008 to 2012 and has served as Deputy Chief of the Criminal Division since then.

Overall Assessment

Generally speaking (although it’s not guaranteed), any nominee put forward by both Obama and Trump is likely to be considered a consensus nominee.  After all, if two Presidents with fairly different criteria for selecting judges can come to a consensus on a nominee’s fitness, it is unlikely that senators will disagree.  Setting that aside, Gujarati clearly has the requisite qualifications to be a district court judge.  Her history of both prosecuting and supervising prosecutors ensures that she has the legal and organizational abilities to handle a courtroom.

If confirmed, Gujarati would replace another former prosecutor who became one of the strongest voices on the judiciary for holding prosecutors accountable.[9]  It remains to be seen if Gujarati will continue Gleeson’s traditions of ensuring an even playing field between prosecutors and defendants in the courtroom.


[1] Weddings; Diane Gujarati, Charles Chesnut, N.Y. Times, Oct. 29, 2000.

[2] Zoe Tillman, The White House Has Pitched a Nominee for Manhattan’s Powerful US Attorney Opening, Buzzfeed News, Aug. 7, 2017, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/zoetillman/the-white-house-has-pitched-a-nominee-for-manhattans.  

[3] Robert Gearty, Jail Weekends for Guard in Pilot Radio Case, N.Y. Daily News, May 31, 2002.

[4] See id.

[5] See id.

[6] Dan Mangan, Gruesome Tale of Mob ‘Canary’ Killer, N.Y. Post, Jan. 13, 2004.

[7] United States v. Lombardozzi, 491 F.3d 61 (2d Cir. 2007).

[8] United States v. Rutkoske, 506 F.3d 170 (2d Cir. 2007).

[9] See, e.g., Colby Hamilton, The Gotti Antagonist Who Brought Down a Sentencing Regime, Politico, March 17, 2016, https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/03/the-gotti-antagonist-who-brought-down-a-sentencing-regime-032867.

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