Judge Michael Nachmanoff – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia

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.

Background

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.

Legal Experience

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).

Jurisprudence

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.

Overall Assessment

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.

Patricia Giles – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia

In 2017, Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine recommended federal prosecutor Patricia Giles to be appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. However, she was not nominated. In 2018, they recommended her again. She was, again, not nominated. As such, when Giles was recommended for a judgeship in 2021, one wondered if Giles would be third time unlucky. As it happens, Giles’ co-recommendee, Judge Michael Nachmanoff, was nominated to the Eastern District. However, Giles was also picked for the court and looks poised to be confirmed with bipartisan support.

Background

Patricia Tolliver Giles received a B.A. from the University of Virginia in 1995 and then got a J.D. from University of Virginia Law School in 1998.

After graduation, Giles clerked for U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. She then spent three years as an Associate at Cooley Godward LLP before becoming a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Giles is still with the office.

History of the Seat

Giles has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. This seat opened on May 1, 2020, when Judge Liam O’Grady moved to senior status. No nomination was made by the Trump Administration to fill this vacancy, and in May 2021, Giles was recommended by Virginia Senators to fill the vacancy, alongside U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Nachmanoff. Giles was nominated on June 30, 2021.

Legal Experience

Setting aside three years at Cooley, Giles has spent virtually her entire legal career as a federal prosecutor, working on a number of prominent cases.

In particular, Giles helped lead many prosecutions of figures in the MS-13 gang. For example, Giles prosecuted four MS-13 members charged with stabbing 17-year-old Brenda Paz to death. Paul Bradley, ‘I Did Not Kill Ms. Paz’ Eldest of Gang Members on Trial in Stabbing Death Testifies He Played No Role, Richmond Times Dispatch, May 5, 2005. Giles also prosecuted MS-13 member Yimmy Pineda-Penado of Alexandria, securing a 210 month sentence against him for child sex trafficking. MS-13 Clique Leader Sentenced to 210 Months for Child Sex Trafficking, U.S. Fed News, Dec. 14, 2012.

In other matters she worked on, Giles prosecuted Keith Reed, Stanley Winston, Anthony Cannon, and Tobias Dyer for a string of robberies in Northern Virginia. The defendants challenged their convictions on appeal, arguing that the government’s decision to offer cell phone maps at trial that attached their names as labels to individual cell phones violated their Confrontation Clause rights. The Fourth Circuit, however, upheld the convictions, finding any error harmless. United States v. Reed, 780 F.3d 260 (4th Cir. 2014).

Overall Assessment

President Biden’s judicial nominations team has attracted attention (and some criticism) for being strongly focused on appointing public defenders to the bench. As such, the appointment of Giles, a longtime federal prosecutor, can be considered a bit more “traditional.” This factor, combined with Giles’ experience with the courtroom and lack of a controversial background, should ensure strong bipartisan support for her nomination.

Judge Jane Beckering – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan

In 2007, Grand Rapids attorney Jane Beckering was named to the Michigan Court of Appeals, replacing Judge Janet Neff, who was elevated to the federal bench. This year, Beckering has, once again, been tapped to replace Neff: this time on the Western District of Michigan.

Background

56-year-old Beckering was born into a family of Michigan lawyers, with her father, grandfather, and great uncle all practicing. See James Prichard, Lawyering Runs in Beckering’s Family, A.P., Sept. 27, 2006. Beckering received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in 1987 and her J.D. from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1990. After graduation, Beckering spent two years at McDermott, Will & Emery LLP in Chicago before moving to Grand Rapids to found Buchanan & Beckering PLC with her brother. See id.

In 2007, Beckering was appointed to the Michigan Court of Appeals by Governor Jennifer Granholm to fill the vacancy left by Judge Janet Neff’s elevation to the federal bench. Beckering still serves on the court, having won re-election unopposed in 2008, 2012, and 2018.

History of the Seat

Beckering has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan. This seat opened on March 1, 2021, when Judge Janet Neff moved to senior status.

Legal Career

Beckering worked in private practice for approximately seventeen years before being appointed to the bench, the vast majority of it at the firm of Buchanan & Beckering PLC in Grand Rapids. While working in private practice, Beckering specialized in medical malpractice work representing both plaintiffs and defendants. See James Prichard, Lawyering Runs in Beckering’s Family, A.P., Sept. 27, 2006.

In addition, Beckering also worked as a mediator for the Kent County Circuit Court and was active with the Michigan Trial Lawyers Association.

Political Activity

In 2006, Beckering was nominated by the Michigan Democratic Party to be a candidate for the Michigan Supreme Court. See Kathy Barks Hoffman, Democrats Choose Williams for AG, Sabaugh for Secretary of State, A.P., Aug. 27, 2006. Beckering lost the election, however, coming in third behind incumbents Michael Cavanagh and Maura Corrigan.

Jurisprudence

Beckering has served on the Michigan Court of Appeals since 2007, issuing rulings and opinions in hundreds of cases since then. Some of her noteworthy decisions, opinions, and dissents are summarized below.

Criminal Law

In her rulings on criminal law, Beckering has generally interpreted statutes narrowly, holding ambiguities against the government. For example, in 2010, Beckering held that the Michigan Sex Offender Registry Act did not require an individual who has homeless to register with local police as they lacked a habitual residence. See Todd A. Heywood, Appeals Court Says Homeless Sex Offenders Not Obligated to Register, Michigan Messenger, Feb. 5, 2010.

Notably, in 2012, Beckering wrote for the court in overturning Jimmie Nelson’s murder conviction for killing Cherita Thomas in 1980, ruling that the evidence was insufficient for the conviction. Mich. Court Strikes Murder Conviction in 1980 Case, A.P. State & Local Wire, Aug. 24, 2012. Earlier this year, Beckering joined a unanimous decision making a juvenile prisoner who had spent nearly 50 years in custody eligible for release. Ed White, Juvenile Lifer Locked Up For Nearly 50 Years Could Go Free, A.P. State & Local, Jan. 22, 2021.

Civil Rights

In civil rights cases, Beckering has generally interpreted protections broadly. For example, Beckering wrote for the court in holding that a northern Michigan bar could be sued for failing to call the police when a black patron was attacked based on his race. Ed White, Bar Can Be Sued For Attack on Black Man, Michigan Court Says, A.P. State & Local, Apr. 23, 2021.

In one of her most notable decisions, Beckering partially dissented from a panel decision throwing out a lawsuit brought by prisoners suffering from sexual violence and abuse in the prison system. See Dana Leibelson, Court Decides Civil Rights Protections Don’t Apply to Kids in Prison, Huffington Post, Aug. 28, 2015, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/civil-rights-kids-prison_n_55e0a663e4b0b7a96338df8c. In her dissent, Beckering argued that the law governing the dispute, a 1999 statute excluding prisoners from civil rights protections, was unconstitutional, stating:

“The Legislature could no sooner enact an amendment [excluding] prisoners from the scope of the statute as it could…blue-eyed individuals, African-Americans, or anyone named, ‘Steve.’”

In contrast, in 2014, Beckering joined a unanimous decision throwing out damages awarded to a black state employee who had a 5-foot tall stuffed gorilla placed in her cubicle, finding that the 3-week long presence of the animal was not sufficient to prove a hostile work environment. Ed White, Black Worker Loses Appeal Over Stuffed Gorilla, A.P. State & Local, June 27, 2014.

Civil Liability

Beckering’s rulings in civil cases have generally read both liability and damages expansively. In 2011, Beckering ruled that a Michigan homeowner whose house was destroyed after 400 gallons of heating oil were mistakenly pumped into it could recover $100,000 in non-economic damages for the loss, finding that a plaintiff could suffer mental anguish from losing their home. See Ed White, Court Backs Verdict in Home Lost to Oil Mess, A.P. State & Local Wire, Aug. 26, 2011. In another case, Beckering joined a 2-1 decision held that a parking lane falls under the jurisdiction of the Michigan Department of Transportation and that the agency could be sued for injuries in such lanes. Woman With Broken Ankle on M-22 Can Sue MDOT, A.P. State & Local Wire, Dec. 24, 2012.

Administrative Law

In her time on the Court of Appeals, Beckering has had the opportunity to opine on a number of agency decisions and regulations. In 2011, Beckering joined a panel decision upholding a Michigan Department of Environmental Quality regulation governing the amount of manure that factory farms could put in waterways. Appeals Court Upholds State ‘Factory Farms’ Rule, A.P. State & Local Wire, Mar. 30, 2011. In contrast, in 2012, Beckering overturned a $37 million rate increase imposed by the Michigan Public Service Commission, finding that the agency failed to provide evidence to support the increase. See Dan Testa, Mich. Appeals Court Rules Against Detroit Edison Rate Hike for Smart Meters, SNL Energy Finance Daily, Apr. 13, 2012.

In a notable ruling with Second Amendment implications, Beckering joined a 2-1 ruling holding that a public library exceeded its authority in barring patrons from carrying weapons on the premises. See Michael Kelley, No Guns in the Library: Curbing the Second Amendment in the Stacks, Library Journal, Jan. 1, 2013.

Statements

While a candidate for the Michigan Supreme Court, Beckering detailed her judicial philosophy, stating that the role of the courts are to remain “nonpartisan” and to “protect the minority against the majority when they have overstepped their bounds on civil rights, on constitutional rights, on that which the law is there to protect them. See James Prichard, Lawyering Runs in Beckering’s Family, A.P., Sept. 27, 2006 (quoting Jane Beckering). Beckering also criticized the conservative majority of the Michigan Supreme Court for “taking a very literal interpretation of the language” of statutes and stated that she would “apply a commonsense interpretation of the statute or the law which we are interpreting and have it make sense.” See id.

Overall Assessment

Having three decades of legal experience under her belt, Beckering would come to the federal bench well-prepared for its rigors. The flip side of this experience, however, is that Beckering has a long record to be parsed by senators. Expect Beckering to get questions about the judicial philosophy she expressed during her Supreme Court run, as well as her many decisions on the Court of Appeals. In the end, Beckering is likely to attract conservative opposition, but will likely still be confirmed to the federal bench.

Judge Shalina Kumar – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan

Chief Judge Shalina Kumar from the Oakland County Circuit Court, is President Biden’s first nominee to the Eastern District of Michigan. If confirmed, Kumar would be the first Indian-American on the court.

Background

Shalina Deborah Kumar received a B.A. from the University of Michigan in 1993 and her J.D. from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law in 1996.

After graduation, Kumar joined the office of Sommers, Schwartz, Silver & Schwartz PC as an associate. In 2004, Kumar moved to the firm of Weiner & Cox PLC. In 2007, Kumar was appointed to the Oakland County Sixth Circuit Court by Governor Jennifer Granholm. Kumar has served on the court ever since, including serving as Chief Judge since 2018.

History of the Seat

Kumar has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. This seat opened on February 24, 2021, when Judge Victoria Roberts moved to senior status.

Legal Career

Kumar has held two primary positions in her pre-bench career. From 1997 to 2004, Kumar worked as an associate at Sommers, Schwartz, Silver & Schwartz PC. Then, from 2004 to 2007, Kumar worked at the firm of Weiner & Cox PLC. In both positions, Kumar focused on commercial litigation, working on medical malpractice, and wrongful death, among other matters.

Political Activity

Kumar has occasionally given to political and judicial candidates. She was particularly active in the 2020 cycle, giving to President Biden, as well as Michigan Supreme Court Justices Bridget McCormack and Elizabeth Welch, as well as Indian American Democratic State Representatives Padma Kuppa and Ranjeev Puri.

Jurisprudence

Kumar has served as a circuit court judge in Oakland County since her appointment in 2007. In this role, she presides over civil claims over $25,000 and all felony criminal cases. Some of Kumar’s more prominent cases are summarized below.

Kid Rock Lawsuit

Early in her time on the bench, Kumar presided over a defamation and harassment lawsuit filed by rocker Kid Rock against Novi native Kelly Ann Kozlowski. See Judge Fed Up with Kid Rock For No-Show in Lawsuit Deposition, A.P. State & Local Wire, Nov. 15, 2007. After Kid Rock failed to show up for a court-ordered deposition, Kumar threw out his lawsuit and entered a default judgment on Kozlowski’s claims against him. See id. A jury later threw out Kozlowski’s suit.

Recall Drive

In 2007, Kumar ruled that a recall petition against Rep. Marie Donigan with the Michigan House of Representatives could not go before voters because it was unclear. See Donigan v. Oakland County Comm’n, LC No. 2007-087516-CZ, Shalina Kumar, J. The Michigan Court of Appeals reversed Kumar’s decision, finding that she erred “by failing to uphold defendant’s approval of the petition language.” See Donigan v. Oakland County Comm’n, 755 N.W.2d 209, 212 (Mich. App. 2008).

Ben Wallace

In 2011, Kumar presided over DUI and gun possession charges against Detroit Pistons player Ben Wallace, and sentenced him to a year in probation, fines, and 30 hours of community service. See Corey Williams, Ben Wallace Gets Probation For DUI, Gun Charges, A.P. State & Local Wire, Dec. 13, 2011.

Tucker Cipriano

In 2012, Kumar presided over the case of Tucker Cipriano, charged with murdering his father and attacking his family with a baseball bat while under the influence of K2. Kumar sentenced Cipriano to life in prison after a no contest plea, while sentencing co-defendent Mitchell Young, who was convicted at trial, also to life in prison. See Life Sentences Given in Bat Attack on Mich. Family, A.P. State & Local Wire, July 24, 2013.

Overall Assessment

With a decade in private practice and fifteen years on the bench, Kumar has established a record of legal experience that would serve her well as a federal judge. Additionally, her time on the bench has established a reputation as a judge that’s not afraid to be bold. While senators may question Kumar’s reversal in the Donigan recall case, or her sentence of probation for Ben Wallace, Kumar is ultimately likely to attract the support needed to be confirmed.

Judge Sarah Merriam – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut

As compared to the outspoken Judge Williams or the young Sarala Nagala, the nomination of U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah Merriam represents the most conventional of the three Connecticut nominees for the district court.

Background

Sarah A.L. Merriam earned her B.A. from Georgetown University in 1993 and her J.D. from Yale Law School in 2000. After graduating law school, Merriam joined the Hartford office of Cowdery, Ecker, & Murphy as an Associate. In 2007, Merriam moved to the public sector as an Assistant Federal Defender, staying in the office for eight years. In 2015, Merriam was chosen to be a federal magistrate judge, replacing Judge Holly Fitzsimmons. Merriam currently serves in this capacity.

History of the Seat

Merriam has been nominated to a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut that opened with Judge Janet Hall’s move to senior status on January 21, 2021.

Legal Career

Merriam started her legal career as an associate at Cowdery, Ecker, & Murphy, where she worked alongside partner Steven Ecker, who now serves on the Connecticut Supreme Court. Among the cases that Merriam and Ecker worked on together, they represented Directors of Reflexite Corp. in defending against a suit alleging that they violated their fiduciary duties to the corporation. See Frank v. LoVetere, 363 F. Supp. 2d 327 (D. Conn. 2005).

From 2007 to 2014, Merriam worked in the Office of the Federal Defender, representing indigent defendants in Connecticut federal court. Among the cases she handled with the office, Merriam represented Michael Danzi, one of two brothers charged with participating in a drug distribution ring importing marijuana from Canada. United States v. Danzi, 726 F. Supp. 2d 109 (D. Conn. 2009).

Jurisprudence

Merriam has served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge since her appointment in 2015, where she handles detention, discovery disputes, misdemeanors, and social security/benefits cases. As an example of a matter she handled, Merriam affirmed an administrative decision denying disability benefits for Dana Poole, finding that substantial evidence supported the determination that Poole’s disabilities were not sufficiently severe to qualify her for the benefits. Poole v. Saul, 462 F. Supp.3d 137 (D. Conn. 2020).

In another notable decision, Merriam ruled against the Libertarian Party of Connecticut, finding that the plaintiffs had not shown that Connecticut’s petitioning requirements were overly burdensome on the party. Libertarian Party of Conn. v. Merrill, 470 F. Supp. 3d (D. Conn. 2020).

Overall Assessment

With experience in private practice, as a federal defender, and as a federal magistrate, and with few controversial cases under her belt, Merriam is likely the least controversial of the group of three nominees put forward for the District of Connecticut. She will likely be confirmed with bipartisan support.

Judge Omar Williams – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut

Omar Williams, a judge for Connecticut’s Superior Court since 2016, has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut. Williams’ nomination fits the pattern of former public defenders being nominated for the bench by the Biden Administration.

Background

Omar A. Williams earned his B.A. from the University of Connecticut in 1998 and his J.D. from the University of Connecticut Law School in 2002. After graduating law school, Williams joined the State of Connecticut Division of Public Defender Services as an assistant public defender. In 2016, Gov. Dannel Malloy appointed Williams to be a judge on the New London District Superior Court, where he currently serves.

History of the Seat

Williams was nominated to a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut on October 15, 2019. The vacancy opened on August 31, 2018, with Judge Alvin Thompson’s move to senior status.

In March 2019, Judge Barbara Jongbloed, a Connecticut Superior Court Judge, was recommended by Connecticut Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy to the Trump Administration. Jongbloed was nominated by the Trump Administration to this seat on August 28, 2019, and was unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on November 21, 2019. However, Jongbloed’s nomination sat on the Senate floor from that point onwards and was left unconfirmed at the end of the Trump Administration, leaving the vacancy for the Biden Administration.

Legal Career

William’s primary experience before becoming a judge was as a state public defender, where he represented indigent defendants in trial and appellate courts. Among the notable cases he handled with the office, Williams challenged, under the Fourth Amendment, the police officers’ use of statements his client had made while calling a third-party cell phone in the possession of the police. See State v. Gonzalez, 898 A.2d 149 (Conn. 2006). Specifically, officers were interviewing a suspected drug dealer when his cellphone rang and officers answered. Officers proceeded to speak with the caller (defendant) and arranged to meet with him for a “resupply.” The defendant was subsequently captured and raised a Fourth Amendment challenge to the police use of a third-party cellphone. The Connecticut Supreme Court held unanimously that “because the defendant spoken voluntarily to police and made no effort to ascertain the identity of the person to whom he spoke, he lacked a reasonable expectation of privacy in his words spoken during his call.” As such, the Supreme Court rejected the Fourth Amendment challenge.

Jurisprudence

Williams has served as a Judge on the Connecticut Superior Court since 2016, when he was appointed by Gov. Dannel Malloy. In this role, Williams has served as a trial court judge, presiding over criminal, civil, family, and housing cases. Williams’ duties include making bail and detention decisions. For example, in one case, Williams set a $250,000 bond for a defendant who forced his way into a woman’s home and attempted to sexually assault the occupant. See Karen Florin, Police: Man Attempted Apology After Home Invasion, Sexual Assault in New London, The Day, Jan. 26, 2015.

Additionally, Williams is also charged with making legal rulings and sentencing defendants who have been found guilty. See, e.g., Claire Bessete, Zane Megos Sentenced to Five Years for Violating Probation, The Day, Feb. 26, 2016. In this role, Williams has not hesitated to impose probation and diversion as an alternative to incarceration. For example, Williams sentenced Dr. Micha Abeles, a 71-year-old doctor charged with stealing medication from the UConn Health Center, to one year of probation. Former UConn Doctor Caught Stealing Drugs Gets Probation, A.P. State & Local, Sept. 13, 2016. Williams also approved an accelerated rehabilitation program for 19-year-old Tyler McKenzie, charged with making an online threat promising “a hail of bullets” against East Lyme schools. See Karen Florin, Court Grants Diversionary Program in East Lyme School Threat Case, The Day, July 14, 2015.

One case that may draw controversy is that of Brianna Brochu, a white University of Hartford student charged with breach of the peace and criminal mischief for allegedly applying bodily fluids, including blood and saliva, on items owned by her roommate Chennel Rowe, who was African American. See Jay Colby, Brianna Brochu Charged With Harassing Former University of Hartford Roommate, Gets Probation, The Black Detour, Mar. 13, 2018, https://theblackdetour.com/brianna-brochu-roommate-gets-probation/. Against the request of the NAACP, state prosecutors declined to charge Brochu with a hate crime, and Williams sentenced her to an accelerated rehabilitation program, allowing the charges to be dismissed with completion of 200 hours of community service and a mental health evaluation, among other requirements. Despite the views of activist groups, and the acknowledgment of the pain the harassment had caused her, Rowe testified that she had no objection to the diversionary disposition of the case.

Additionally, Williams co-chaired a task force with former Connecticut Chief Justice Chase Rogers to reform jury selection in Connecticut and reduce racial bias. See Zach Murdock, Reforms Designed to Reduce Racial Bias in Trial Jury Selection Advance, Hartford Courant, Apr. 7, 2021. The Committee’s recommendations included permitting felons and non-citizens to serve on juries, raising the age at which seniors can opt out of jury service, and increasing compensation for jurors. The recommendations were subsequently approved by the Connecticut legislature.

Overall Assessment

With over two decades of legal experience as both an attorney and a judge, Williams is likely to be deemed qualified for the federal bench. However, opponents are likely to raise three primary issues in opposition to his nomination. First, they may point to Williams’ time as a public defender to criticize his “fitness” for the bench. Second, they may argue that Williams’ willingness to offer probation and diversion, including in the Brochu case, reflects a lack of attention to crime victims. Third, they may criticize Williams’ work in reforming jury service and selection in Connecticut. How successful such arguments are likely to be depends on if any of the Senate’s Democrats find them persuasive in opposing Williams’ nomination.

Sarala Vidya Nagala – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut

Sarala Vidya Nagala, a federal prosecutor in Connecticut, is one of three nominees put forward by the Biden Administration to fill vacancies on the District of Connecticut, in one of the biggest turnovers of the court since 1994.

Background

Nagala received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Stanford University in 2005 and her Juris Doctor from the University of California School of Law in 2008. After graduating law school, she clerked for U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Susan Graber on the Ninth Circuit, before joining the San Francisco office of Munger Tolles & Olson as an Associate. In 2012, Nagala moved to the public sector as an Assistant U.S. Attorney with the District of Connecticut, becoming Deputy Chief of the Major Crimes Unit in 2017. Nagala is still with the office.

History of the Seat

Nagala has been nominated to a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut opened by Judge Vanessa Lynne Bryant’s move to senior status on February 1, 2021.

Legal Career

Nagala started her legal career at the firm of Munger Tolles & Olson, a firm that has produced many prominent federal judges, including Justice Brett Kavanaugh and four sitting Ninth Circuit judges. At the firm, Nagala was part of the legal team representing Bank of America in seeking damages arising from financial fraud orchestrated by the Taylor, Bean & Whitaker Mortgage Corp. See Bank of Am, N.A. v. FDIC, 908 F. Supp. 2d 60 (D.D.C. 2012). On the pro-bono side, Nagala was part of the legal team, along with the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, challenging a gang injunction imposed by Orange County. Vasquez v. Rackaukas, 203 F. Supp. 3d 1061 (C.D. Cal. 2011).

Nagala has spent the last nine years as a federal prosecutor in Connecticut, rising to become Deputy Chief of the Major Crimes Division. Among the notable cases that she has handled with the office, Nagala prosecuted Stavros Ganias for tax evasion. United States v. Ganias, 755 F.3d 125 (2d Cir. 2014). Ganias challenged his conviction on two grounds: that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated when law enforcement copied three of his hard drives pursuant to a search warrant and then improperly retained materials beyond the scope of the warrant; and that his Sixth Amendment rights were violated by a juror’s Facebook activity. A divided panel of the Second Circuit reversed the conviction on the basis of the Fourth Amendment argument. However, Nagala petitioned for en banc rehearing, and the full Second Circuit reversed the decision based on Judge Peter Hall’s dissent, finding that, while the Defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated, the “good faith” exception precluded suppression of the evidence. See United States v. Ganias, 824 F.3d 199 (2d Cir. 2016) (en banc). In other matters, Nagala is currently prosecuting New Britain resident Steven Knox for stealing 43 tires from the U.S. Postal Service. Don Stacom, Man Charged in Theft of 43 Tires From U.S. Postal Service Garage; Investigators: Suspect Admitted to Using Access Card He Kept From Repair Shop Job, Hartford Courant, June 10, 2021.

Overall Assessment

Despite being in her 30s, Nagala has already gained experience in both civil and criminal litigation. While some senators may raise questions about Nagala’s age, such inquiries are likely to be blunted by the relative youth of a number of Trump appointees. As such, one can expect Nagala to be confirmed in due course and make history as the first Indian-American judge on the Connecticut federal bench.

Jia Cobb – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia

Relman Colfax Partner Jia Cobb, nominated for the federal district court in D.C., would come to the bench with extensive litigation experience on both the civil and the criminal side.

Background

Jia Cobb received her B.A. from Northwestern University in 2002 and then received her J.D. cum laude from Harvard Law School where she served as Coordinating Editor of the Harvard Law Review.

After graduating, Cobb clerked for Judge Diane Wood on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and joined the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. In 2010, she became a Partner at Relman Colfax, where she practices civil litigation and civil rights law.

History of the Seat

The seat Cobb has been nominated for opened on April 3, 2021, with Judge Emmett Sullivan’s move to senior status. Cobb was recommended by House Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton for the federal bench on March 25, 2021.

Legal Experience

Cobb started her legal career as a clerk to Judge Diane Wood on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. She then shifted to the Public Defender Service in D.C., where she represented indigent defendants in D.C. Superior Court and in the federal courts. Among her clients there, Cobb represented Christopher Timmons, who was charged with bringing a grenade and additional weapons near the U.S. Capitol complex. In his defense, Timmons claimed that he wanted to assist the police in their functions.

For the past eleven years, Cobb has served as a Partner at Relman Colfax, where she has practiced civil rights and civil litigation. Among her notable matters at the firm, Cobb represented an African-American bartender fired from Redline bar in Washington D.C. in an employment discrimination suit. The suit ended in a $687,000 judgment against the bar by a jury.

Additionally, in 2021, Cobb led the filing of lawsuits against the County of Stafford, the City of Fredericksburg, the District of Columbia, and other governmental organizations for allegedly infringing upon the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of Black Lives Matter protesters.

Statements and Writings

Throughout her career, Cobb has spoken out on issues of race, gender, and diversity, including from her college days. As a college sophomore at Northwestern, Cobb spoke as part of the school’s first conference on diversity on a panel on racial coverage at the Daily Northwestern. See Rebecca Orbach, Northwestern U. Holds School’s First Conference on Diversity, Daily Northwestern, Nov. 8, 1999. She also served on a committee reviewing the school’s University Sexual Assault Hearing and Appeals System. See Emily Bittner, Committee Reviews Northwestern U.’s Sexual Assault Hearing and Appeals System, Daily Northwestern, May 18, 2000. In another interview from college, Cobb noted that she wanted to speak for the disadvantaged to “honor[] those who have made sacrifices for her.” See Wailin Wong, DePaul Professor Praises King’s ‘Radical Legacy’ Despite Flaws, Daily Northwestern, Jan. 11, 2001.

Similarly, as a law student, Cobb co-authored a paper discussing the disparities in African Americans serving on law reviews. See Jia Cobb, Lauren Sudeall & Amanda Teo, Diversity on the Law Review, HARV. L. REC., May 2, 2005.

Overall Assessment

With an appellate clerkship, nearly two decades of criminal and civil litigation experience, and a lack of background in partisan politics, Cobb could be a fairly uncontroversial pick for the federal bench. However, she is likely to draw opposition primarily based on her work in criminal defense and civil rights, which opponents may argue reflects bias. She may also draw questions for her statements and writings on issues of race and diversity. Ultimately, as long as Democrats hold together, Cobb will likely be confirmed in due course.

Lauren King – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington

Native Americans are among the most under-represented groups on the federal judiciary, with only two judges serving in active status. President Biden has now nominated a third, Seattle attorney Lauren King.

Background

Born in 1982, King received a B.A. from the University of Washington in 2004 and a J.D. from the University of Virginia Law School in 2008.

After graduating, King worked as an associate at K&L Gates for a year and then at Byrnes Keller Cromwel for two years before joining the Seattle office of Foster Garvey P.C. where she currently serves as a Principal.

History of the Seat

King has been nominated for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. This seat opened on January 27, 2016, when Judge Robert Lasnik moved to senior status. On April 6, 2016, the Obama Administration nominated Judge Beth Andrus to fill the vacancy, but her nomination was never confirmed by the Republican Senate.

On July 13, 2018, the Trump Administration announced their intention to nominate federal prosecutor Tessa Gorman to the Western District. However, due to a dispute with Washington’s U.S. Senators over the Ninth Circuit nomination of Eric Miller, the Trump Administration chose not to proceed with Gorman’s nomination. President Biden nominated King on May 12, 2021.

Legal Experience

King, a citizen of the Muscogee Nation, has focused her career on Native American law, frequently representing Native American tribes in lawsuits seeking to protect their interests. Most notably, King represented the Quileute tribe in a suit seeking to protect the fishing boundaries designated for the tribe under the 1855 Treaty of Olympia. See Greg Geudel, Lauren King: “Rising Star” Defender of Tribal Rights, Native American Legal Update, May 6, 2016. King was able to get a favorable ruling on the suit from Judge Ricardo Martinez on the Western District of Washington. The decision was subsequently appealed and partially affirmed by a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. See Makah Indian Tribe v. Quileute Indian Tribe, 873 F.3d 1 (9th Cir. 2017).

King has also made a name for herself in litigating related Indian law cases before the Ninth Circuit, including a subproceeding involving the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe. Muckleshoot Indian Tribe v. Tulalip Tribes, 944 F.3d 11 (9th Cir. 2019). She also represented the Muscogee Creek Nation in a suit regarding the use of a tract of land in Wetumpka, Alabama. Muscogee (Creek) Nation v. Poarch Band of Creek Indians, Civil Action No. 2:12cv1079-MHT, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 47953 (M.D. Ala. Mar. 15, 2021).

Overall Assessment

Given the focus on her experience on Indian law, King is an unusual choice for a federal judicial appointment, and her selection shows a willingness by the Biden Administration to pick unconventional nominees. While King may draw some opposition for her youth, she is nonetheless favored to join the bench and may even be poised for elevation to the Ninth Circuit if a Washington seat was to open.

Judge Angel Kelley – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts

Judge Angel Kelley (also known as Angel Kelley Brown) is a state judge in Massachusetts with a varied resume, including serving as a federal prosecutor, a clinical instructor, and a legal aid attorney. Kelley now seeks to add an additional credential: federal judge.

Background

Kelley was born in New Rochelle, NY in 1967. Kelley received a B.A. from Colgate University in 1989, and then obtained a J.D. from the Georgetown University Law Center in 1992.

After graduation, Kelley worked for the Juvenile Rights Division with the Legal Aid Society in Brooklyn for four years before being hired by the Litigation Division of the NY & NJ Port Authority.

In 2005, Kelley moved to Massachusetts to become a Clinical Instructor at Harvard Law School. After two years there, and another two years with the US. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts.

In 2009, Kelley was nominated by Governor Deval Patrick to be a Judge on the Massachusetts District Court. In 2013, Patrick elevated Kelley to the Massachusetts Superior Court, where she currently serves.

History of the Seat

Kelley has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts opened by Judge Douglas Woodlock’s move to senior status on June 1, 2015. On July 30, 2015, President Obama nominated Boston attorney Inga Bernstein to fill the vacancy. Despite being overwhelmingly voted out of the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee, Bernstein was blocked from a final vote before the end of the Obama Administration. Due to an inability to reach an agreement on candidates with Massachusetts Senators, the Trump Administration never extended a nominee to fill the vacancy. Kelley was nominated to the seat on May 12, 2021.

Legal Career

Kelley has held a number of positions throughout her career, including working as a clinical instructor, as a federal prosecutor, and as a legal aid attorney. The most significant portion of Kelley’s career, however, was spent as an attorney on behalf of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, an interstate compact that regulates transportation between the states.

Among the notable matters she handled for the Port Authority, Kelley defended the decision to dismiss Christopher Mapp, a Port Authority employee, based on alleged false statements he made in seeking Red Cross Aid after being traumatized after witnessing the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Mapp v. Burnham, 23 A.D.3d 37 (N.Y. App. Div. 2005). An appellate court reversed the dismissal, noting that Mr. Mapp was entitled to the aid he applied for and any false statement he made (he had allegedly stated that he was unemployed) had no materiality to his application. See id.

Jurisprudence

Kelley has served as a state court judge in Massachusetts since her appointment in 2009. For the first three years of her career, Kelley served on the Brockton District Court, which holds jurisdiction over felonies up to five years, misdemeanors, ordinance violations, and all civil matters involving less than $25,000 in damages. Since 2013, Kelley has served on the Massachusetts Superior Court, a trial court with jurisdiction over civil offenses with more than $50,000 at stake and jurisdiction over all felony criminal matters.

Among the notable matters that she heard as a judge, Kelley denied a motion for a new trial made by Clifton Caldwell, who argued that, at his original trial, the prosecution had failed to disclose a key witness’ long history as a police informant who had received lenient sentences in exchange for cooperation in other cases. See Commonwealth v. Caldwell, SJC-12907, May 6, 2021 (Mass. 2021). Kelley denied the motion by noting that there was insufficient evidence connecting the witness’ testimony in the defendant’s case with preferential treatment he received in other cases. See id. However, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding that the informaiton not disclosed was exculpatory and the failure to disclose prejudiced the defendant, and, as such, that a new trial was needed.

In addition to her work in the courtroom, Kelley has been active on social justice issues, including trainings encouraging judges and court staff to stand up against conscious and unconscious bias. See Ralph D. Gants, Voice of the Judiciary: Creating Courts Where All Are Truly Equal, 65 B.B.J. 4 (Winter 2021). She also participated in the Committee charged with creating a new Massachusetts Code of Judicial Conduct, and has spoken in forums discussing racism in the court system, including experiences that she has faced as a judge of color. See Yawu Miller, Officials Take On Discrimination in Court System, Bay State Banner, Mar. 4, 2021.

Overall Assessment

With two decades of legal experience under her belt, Kelley can certainly argue that she is academically qualified for the federal bench. However, she may draw opposition (or at least questioning) based on her active anti-bias work in the judiciary. While Kelley is likely to draw conservative opposition, she is nonetheless favored for confirmation.