Judge Sandy Leal – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California

Judge Sandy Leal currently serves on the Orange County Superior Court.  While Leal’s experience on the bench is fairly brief, she has extensive experience as a federal prosecutor.


Sandy Nunes Leal was born in Longview Washington in 1972.  Leal got an B.A. from the University of Washington in 1995, and a J.D. from Boston College Law School in 1989.[1]  After graduating, Leal joined the Immigration and Naturalization Service as an assistant district counsel.[2] 

In 2004, Leal joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California as a federal prosecutor.  She stayed with the Office until her appointment to the bench.

In 2018, Leal was named by Gov. Jerry Brown to the Orange Superior Court, where she currently serves.[3] 

History of the Seat

Leal has been nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, to a seat vacated on November 23, 2016 by Judge Christina Snyder.

In February 2019, Leal was contacted by the White House Counsel’s Office to gauge her interest in a federal judgeship.[4]  After interviews with the Judicial Advisory Commission set up by Senators Feinstein and Harris, Leal was nominated on October 17, 2019.

Legal Experience

For the first few years of her career, Leal worked for INS, where she appeared in immigration court on removal proceedings, asylum hearings, and appeals.[5]  From 2004 to 2018, Leal has worked as a federal prosecutor, where she worked primarily on immigration and human trafficking matters.

As a federal prosecutor, Leal prosecuted Robert Ornelas, an Orange County teacher, who traveled to the Philippines to engage in sexual conduct with minors and produce child pornography.[6]  Ornelas was tried and convicted by a jury and was sentenced by Judge Cormac Carney to 190 years in prison.[7]  Leal also prosecuted Roshaun (“Kevin”) Nakia Porter for trafficking victims to engage in commercial sex acts.[8] 


Since 2018, Leal has served as a judge on the Orange County Superior Court.  In this role, Leal presides over trial court matters in criminal, civil, family, and other state law matters.  By her estimation, Leal has not authored any opinions during her tenure on the bench.[9]  Among the cases that Leal has presided over, they are primarily cases of family and domestic law, including petitions for dissolution,[10] request for restraining orders,[11] and child custody orders.[12]

Overall Assessment

Despite, or perhaps because of, her limited judicial record, there is little in Leal’s background that should cause trouble through the confirmation process.  When confirmed, she would be a fairly middle of the road judge on the Central District.

[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Sandy Nunes Leal: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] See Press Release, Office of Gov. Edmund G. Brown, Brown Names Aide, Five Others to Superior Courts, Dec. 18, 2018 (available at http://www.metnews.com/articles/2018/appt121818.htm).  

[3] See id. 

[4] See Leal, supra n. 1 at 26.

[5] See id. at 15.

[6] Press Release, Justice Department, Former Orange County Teacher in Sex Tourism Case Found Guilty of Traveling to Phillipines to Molest Young Girls and Filiming the Abuse, (Nov. 18, 2016).

[7] See United States v. Ornelas, SA CR 14-183-CJC (C.D. Cal.).

[8] See United States v. Porter, SA CR 12-97-JLS (C.D. Cal.).

[9] See Leal, supra n. 1 at 7.

[10] See, e.g., Campbell v. Campbell, No. 16D001563 (O.C. Sup. Ct.).

[11] See, e.g., Y.A. v. O.T., No. 19P000051 (O.C. Sup. Ct.).

[12] See, e.g., C.D. v. G.D., No.18D006591 (O.C. Sup. Ct.).

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Judge Maame Ewusi-Mensah Frimpong – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California | The Vetting Room

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s