A former federal defender and U.S. Magistrate Judge, Judge Michael Nachminoff is President Biden’s latest nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.
A native of Arlington, Virginia Michael Stefan Nachmanoff received a B.A. from Wesleyan University in 1991 and then got a J.D. from the University of Virginia Law School in 1995.
After graduation, Nachmanoff clerked for Judge Leonie Brinkema on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia and then joined the firm of Cohen, Gettings & Dunham, P.C. as an associate. In 2002, Nachmanoff joined the Federal Defender’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia and became Chief Public Defender in 2007.
In 2014, Nachmanoff was appointed as a U.S. Magistrate Judge in the Alexandria Division of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. He continues to serve there today.
History of the Seat
Nachmanoff has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. This seat opened on June 1, 2021, when Judge Anthony Trenga moved to senior status. Nachmanoff was recommended, along with federal prosecutor Patricia Giles, by Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine to White House for an earlier vacancy left by Judge Liam O’Grady. While Giles was nominated for that seat, Nachmanoff was tapped for the newer vacancy.
While Nachmanoff did spend a few years in private practice early in his career, the bulk of his practice has been as a federal defender, where he represented indigent defendants in some of the most prominent prosecutions of the 21st century. Notably, Nachmanoff was part of the legal team for Zacarias Moussaoui, an Al Qaeda member charged with conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens. See Neil A. Lewis, Moussaoui Tells Court of Plan to Hijack 5th Jet; Surprise Testimony Seen Likely to Help Death Penalty Case Against Him, N.Y. Times, Mar. 28, 2006.
Nachmanoff also represented Zachary Chesser, a Fairfax man who was sentenced to 25 years for attempting to provide material support to a terrorist group and for threatening the lives of writers on South Park. See Warren Richey, American Jihadi Gets 25 Years for ‘South Park’ and Facebook Death Threats; Zachary Chesser of Virginia, Who Converted to a Militant Form of Islam, Had Pleaded Guilty to Three Charges, Including Threatening the Lives of ‘South Park’ Writers and Participants in ‘Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.’ Christian Science Monitor, Feb. 24, 2011.
Most notably, Nachmanoff argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of a below-guidelines sentence imposed by Judge Raymond Jackson that the Fourth Circuit found was unreasonable. In a 7-2 opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court agreed with Nachmanoff that the sentence was reasonable under the law. See Kimbrough v. United States, 552 U.S. 85 (2007).
Nachmanoff has served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge since 2015. In this capacity, Nachmanoff oversees discovery, adjudicates cases where jurisdiction is consented to, and presides over settlement. He also oversees pretrial detention, and granted bond in the amount of $1 million to Lev Parnas and Igor Furman, clients of Rudy Giuliani, charged with concealing foreign donations. Geoff Earle, Rudy Giuliani’s Ukraine Fixers Are Arrested Trying to Flee the U.S. Hours After Lunching With Him And Are Charged With Funneling $350K From Mystery Russian Businessman to Trump PAC – Then Pushing to Have Ambassador to Kiev Fired, MailOnline, Oct. 10, 2019.
Among other significant matters over which he presided, Nachmanoff sharply criticized Volkswagen, as well as counsel for a class of plaintiffs, for failing to resolve discovery issues expeditiously and for letting the matter sit on the court docket for two years without resolution. See Christopher Cole, Discovery Talk ‘Abysmally Failed’ in VW Suit, Judge Says, Law 360, June 28, 2021. Nachmanoff encouraged the parties to seek settlement, noting “This litigation has gone on too long and the only people who have benefited are the lawyers, if they’re collecting their fees.” See Nadia Dried, Va. Court ‘Shocked’ By Sluggish VW Pre-Production Car Fight, Law 360, Feb. 26, 2021 (quoting Judge Michael Nachmanoff). Nachmanoff also sanctioned the Fairfax County School Board for failing to preserve documents relevant to a lawsuit against them. See Matthew Barakat, Judge Sanctions School System in Sexual Misconduct Lawsuit, A.P., June 29, 2019.
Statements and Writings
In addition to his work on cases, Nachmanoff has both written and spoken on a number of issues in criminal law and procedure. For example, in 2012, Nachmanoff responded to a press release from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) noting wide sentencing disparities, criticizing the methodologies used by TRAC. Michael Nachminoff, TRAC Analysis of Variations in Sentencing Misses the Mark, 25 Fed. Sent. R. 18 (Oct. 2012). Similarly, Nachmanoff has spoken out against budget cuts to federal defender offices, see Ron Nixon, Public Defenders are Tightening Belts Because of Steep Federal Budget Cuts, N.Y. Times, Aug. 24, 2013, and against the staggering of harsh penalties by prosecutors to push defendants into plea deals. See Erik Eckholm, Prosecutors Draw Fire For Sentences Called Harsh, N.Y. Times, Dec. 6, 2013.
Nachmanoff has also testified before Congress on multiple occasions. In 2013, Nachmanoff spoke on the impact of sequestration related budget cuts before the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Bankruptcy and the Courts. Similarly, in 2008, Nachmanoff testified in favor of efforts to reduce sentencing disparities between powder and crack cocaine before the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.
Nachmanoff comes to the bench with extensive experience with both civil and criminal litigation, as well as a long history of advocating for the rights of the indigent. While his testimony, media statements, and articles will be scrutinized closely, ultimately, Nachmanoff is likely to get the support for confirmation.